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Nepal set for talks with Maoists

Maoist violence
More than 1,800 people have died in the Maoist violence since 1996  


KATHMANDU, Nepal -- A first round of peace talks between Nepal's government and Maoist rebels to end five years of bloodshed in the Himalayan kingdom could begin later this week, say government sources.

The government has not made any official comment about the timing of the talks, the first between the two sides since the Maoists began a violent campaign to overthrow the poverty-stricken nation's constitutional monarchy in 1996.

But the source, asked about a report in the Kathmandu Post newspaper that the discussions might start as early as Thursday, said: "We are aiming to have talks around that time."

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chief Prachanda last month announced a truce in the conflict and pledged to end the violence.

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Deuba has named Physical Planning and Works Minister Chiranjivi Wagle as the negotiator while a top rebel leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, is to lead the Maoist team.

Another daily newspaper, the Rajdhani, said informal contacts had been established between Wagle and Mahara and a formal meeting was likely to take place later this week.

The government has freed 35 rebels including a top leader in the run-up to the meeting. The insurgents have released dozens of policemen captured by them.

The government says the location and agenda of the meeting as well as the views expressed at the talks should not be made public until the negotiations end.

The Maoists want to set up a communist republic in the picturesque nation, the world's only Hindu kingdom.

More than 1,800 people have been killed since the insurgency began in the mountainous kingdom, which attracts thousands of mountain climbers and backpackers each year.

Before the truce, the violence had escalated as the rebels killed dozens of policemen in a string of assaults on remote police stations and carried out a wave of kidnappings.

The Maoists campaign began in early 1996 in a few remote and impoverished villages. It has since spread to most areas in rural Nepal with the rebels running a parallel government in some districts.

Reuters contributed to this report.






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