Peace process stalled in Nepal over rebel arms

A day after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said that King Gyanendra should be given a role in Nepal's future, Maoist second-in-command Babu Ram Bhattarai said that the peace process is stalled and on the verge of collapse.

"The peace process is stuck at a sensitive point," Mr. Bhattarai, chief of the rebel's government wing, told businessmen in Kathmandu Monday. He added that if the government continues to protect the monarchy and focus on "decommissioning," his party would be forced to walk away from peace talks.

"We are not ready to lay down arms unless a democratic army is formed. The effort to make us lay down arms unilaterally will only derail the peace process," he said. "We have not lost, and we are not tired, either."

However, Bhattarai refrained from threatening a resumption of fighting, saying that the Maoists are not going back to the jungle, and instead would lead a peaceful struggle on the streets if it came to that.

The positive spirit of negotiation between Nepal's political parties and the rebels when they signed a road map to peace on June 16 has dampened in recent days over disagreements on the future of the monarchy and arms possessed by the rebels.

In the road map, the two sides agreed to draft an interim constitution, form an interim government with Maoist participation, ask the UN to assist in the management of the armies of both sides, announce a date for the assembly elections, and dissolve both the parliament and rebel-run local governments.

Aside from an election time frame, none of these initiatives has been implemented. The political parties are concerned that if the rebels remain armed, they could unduly sway voters as the political process unfolds. The Maoists, meanwhile, are concerned that the parties are not sufficiently concerned about disbanding the parliament under their control, and are making overtures to the king. On Sunday, Prime Minister Koirala equated Maoists with the king as forces that should be given "space" in democracy.

A UN team sent to assess a possible UN role in Nepal's peace process left Kathmandu on Aug. 3, unable to find consensus among leaders here about the kind of UN role they wanted. The government and the Maoists scrambled to draft a joint letter to the team. After agreeing to a final draft, the prime minister refused to sign the letter Monday morning. The Maoists want to stay in barracks with their arms, under UN monitoring; the parties want rebel arms decommissioned.

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