It took five months of peace initiatives, several piecemeal agreements, and 17 hours of marathon talks for Nepal's government to finally hammer out a comprehensive agreement with Maoist rebels in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The deal brought an end to this country's armed insurgency, which began in 1996 and left more than 13,000 dead.
Analysts say the six-point document that emerged from the talks marks an end to the violent insurgency that saw Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, slide further into economic destitution. The drawn-out fighting also resulted in 14 months of autocratic rule by King Gyanendra that ended on April 24 after popular protests.
Even amid the protracted peace dialogue, rebels extended a cease-fire three times, and top rebel leaders began speaking in public with increasing regularity. The Maoists' sense of security and confidence in the final weeks leading up to the agreement, analysts say, leaves little doubt of their commitment to promoting multiparty democracy.
"The well-drafted document has addressed all quarters and put a final seal on peace," says Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, Nepal's largest daily. "With the agreements, Nepal is on a definite course to lasting peace. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The people will feel this the day the weapons of the rebels are locked up."
Among the key agreements, Maoist and government forces agreed to lock up the rebels' weapons under UN supervision and confine rebel combatants to UN-administered camps by late November. The deal also stipulates that the state Army return to its barracks and forfeit an equal number of weapons to UN observation.
The agreement also provides for one of the more contentious elements of the negotiations: the eventual formation of an interim government.
By Nov. 26, an interim parliament will add 73 seats for Maoist rebels. The parliament will be dissolved by mid-2007, replaced by a popularly elected 425-member constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution to determine the future of the monarchy.
The two sides have also agreed to sign a comprehensive peace accord by Nov. 16, which will include provisions to compensate the families of those killed or maimed during the conflict, rehabilitate displaced civilians, and form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with cases of serious human rights violations.
Ordinary Nepalese appeared upbeat on Wednesday morning as news of the agreement screamed from the front pages of Nepal's daily newspapers.
"Congratulations to all for the success of peace talks," wrote Raju Chhettri, general manager of Kawasaki motorcycle outlet in Kathmandu, in a text message forwarded to friends.
According to Mr. Wagle, the agreements have paved a "diversion track" to return the rebels back to the political mainstream, instead of continuing to use violence to effect political change. Nepal's Maoists had started the insurgency in order to end the monarchy and establish a single-party communist republic.
"The agreements have cleared all obstacles till constituent-assembly elections," he says, referring to the body that will write Nepal's new constitution. "After the elections are held, the rest of the steps for peace will be taken automatically."
In fact, the violent insurgency first changed course in November 2005, when rebel leaders admitted, after nearly a decade of fighting state forces, that they could not secure political legitimacy through violence alone. The Maoists entered into a loose alliance with seven political parties to end the king's rule. It was only after this alliance that the popular perception of Nepal's Maoists shifted from a rebel group with a single-minded focus on violent revolution to a serious democratic political party.
Despite the long-overdue success, Nepal's civil society leaders remained skeptical of Wednesday's agreement. While acknowledging that the accord is likely to steer the country toward peace, human rights officials and observers were disappointed at the lack of specific legal protections for ordinary Nepalese.
"The document is excellent as a power-sharing arrangement between the parties and the Maoists. However, there is no human rights component in it," says Subodh Pyakurel, chief of Insec, a leading human rights NGO in Kathmandu. "They have decided on how many seats each party will have in the interim government and interim parliament, but there is nothing for the people in whose name the insurgency was fought," he added.
However, Mr. Pyakurel says the upcoming political process will provide opportunities to draft new legal protections for non-militants who had little involvement in the actual fighting.
1996: Maoists begin fighting monarchy.
April 1998: Maoists turn down government offer for talks.
September 2005: Maoist rebels announce unilateral cease-fire, which the monarchy rejects.
November 2005: Maoists enter into loose alliance with the seven main political parties to try to end king's rule.
January 2006: Rebels end cease-fire.
April 24: King forced to reinstate parliament, dismissed in 2002, after 19 days of popular protests leave 19 dead.
April 27: Maoists declare three-month cease-fire. Three days later, prime minister offers talks, which occur June 16.
June 10: Parliament revokes king's power.
June 19: Government, Maoists agree to dissolve parliament and set up interim administration that includes rebels.
July 4: Nepal invites UN to monitor weapons held by rebels and government.
July 14: Maoists refuse to surrender arms.
July 28: Maoists extend cease-fire by three months as talks begin with a team of UN officials.
Aug. 9: Government, rebels agree to confine their troops, weapons to temporary camps under UN supervision.
Nov. 8: Prime minister, rebel chief sign the comprehensive peace deal.