Nepal gov't offers unconditional talks with Maoists
Nepal's new government headed by the king has offered to hold unconditional talks with Maoist rebels to end an insurgency that has claimed more than 11,000 lives.
The rebels have previously said they will negotiate only with King Gyanendra or his representatives under an international mediator, with an agenda that includes electing a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.
"Now they should come for dialogue without any conditions," a government statement said Monday, adding that those issues can be discussed if the rebels agree to meet a committee of cabinet ministers which has still to be appointed.
The Maoist agenda of a round-table conference and an interim government and assembly "can be discussed at the negotiating table."
Gyanendra, who controls the army, last week fired the government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for failing to organise elections and for failing to end the Maoist insurgency.
He named a loyalist cabinet under his chairmanship, declared a state of emergency and pledged to restore multi-party democracy in three years.
However, in India two senior Nepalese politicians leading a group of six who fled across the border at the weekend, urged the Maoists not to listen to Gyanendra.
"We today appeal to the Maoists not to hold talks with the king .... they should seek a democratic solution to their demands," said Dilendra Bood, a senior figure and former education minister in Nepal.
"The Maoist issue must be debated in the democratically-elected house because there are no military solutions," Bood told AFP.
"We also demand the release of all leaders who have been detained after the king sacked (prime minister Sher Bahadur) Deuba and we also demand the lifting of press censorship, restoration of communication and the reestablishment of our parliament."
Bood was a member of the government of prime minister G.P. Koirala, who was sacked and imprisoned in December 1960 by King Mahendra, the current monarch's father, and is today under house arrest.
Vinay Dhwaj Chandra, chief whip in the Nepali Congress party, in a separate interview with AFP called on India to help.
"We have come to secure moral support for the democratic movement for which we will be also meeting leaders of national political parties in India," said Chandra.
He said his party workers Monday distributed pamphlets in the Nepalese district of Baitari, urging the Maoist leadership to stay away from any negotiation with the king or his representatives.
Scores of political leaders, party and union leaders are under arrest, press censorship has been imposed and any criticism of the king's action has been banned.
On Monday human rights groups held a meeting in defiance of a ban on gatherings and called for a protest on February 10 near the federal government's central secretariat.
The meeting urged activists to court arrest and called for the restoration of democracy and press freedom.
"We would like to fill the jails of Nepal for the sake of democracy, human rights and peace," said Krishna Pahadi, former president of the Nepal Human Rights and Peace Society.
Maoist guerrilla leader Prachanda had refused to hold talks with the previous government but he also described the king's takeover as illegal and urged "pro-people forces of the world" to oppose the power grab.
The conflict between the army and the Maoists has become increasingly savage since it erupted in 1996, with human rights groups accusing both sides of atrocities.
The Maoists say they control much of the countryside outside of the capital and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley.
The Himalayan nation of 27 million, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, has been largely isolated since the king cut phone services and Internet links last week.