|PEACEFUL SMILES: Sonu Lama (left) chats with female fighters during a public meeting on Wednesday in thehills of Dhading.|
This is part of a series of public meeting the Maoists are holding nationwide to explain their position after King Gyanendra's restoration of parliament and the comrades seemed intent on selling peace to a war-weary population.
"We firmly believe that peace is on its way and there will be no more deception from the political parties," said Puspa Bikram Malla, the Maoists' former western regional chief amidst applause at the meeting eight hours walk from the district headquarter.
The meeting took place just before the Maoists announced their three-month ceasefire. But it came too late for 13 guerrillas who were killed by the RNA in a skirmish on Tuesday west of here. Some of those killed were friends of Maoists here.
"We are not here to kill people," says 21-year-old Yangje Lama from Thamel, who joined the Maoist army a year ago, "we all want to live peacefully with our families but that is not possible unless all Nepalis are free from this king's oppression."
Dhading villagers appear happy that an end to the conflict seems at last at hand with the ceasefire. And the comrades seem as weary of the war as the civilians. "I hope this will be the last day that I will be holding this gun," says 15-year old Anish who composes revolutionary songs, "all we want is that our vision for which we have been struggling the last 10 years is fulfilled."
Sonu Lama joined the Maoists two years ago when she was barely 16. She puts her gun aside and joins her friends in a dance that ridicules King Gyanendra. "I want to go to Kathmandu and tell a lot of people about our struggle," says Sonu with a radiant smile.
The battle-hardened guerrillas are less sanguine about the future. "The UN should mediate," says Ram Bahadur Bhandari, head of the 'United Revolutionary Council' of Dhading, "if we have two armies with equal strength this war will just drag on."
Adharsila, a medical worker with the Maoists is still sceptical. "It's still hard to believe everything will be fine, that peace will return and the king will give up power," says the 20-year-old, "I have seen so many of my friends die that I have lost all fear."
Not everyone wants to talk, Suchana is a 22-year-old guerrilla whose husband was killed in action. "We are just soldiers, we just follow orders, talk to our leaders," she says.
With the third ceasefire in the last four years, most of the Maoists hoped the parties would not deceive them again. Ram Bahadur Bhandari is even philosophical about it: "We are often seen as people who want to rule the country with guns but no one can go against the will of the masses."
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ALL PICS NARESH NEWAR
LIVING MARTYR: Ram Bahadur Bhandari, a living legend for the Maoist fighters and activists, was tortured for five hours, shot on the chest and thrown 1,000m down the hill by the security forces and left to die. Today he goes by the name of a living martyr.
MEDIA POWER: Maoists have realised that the power of pen is not to be taken lightly. There was a time when independent journalists were forbidden to enter their areas. Today, Kathmandu reporters are invited and are given grand welcome with a military salute and public felicitation.
REBEL MUSINGS: "Run, run, the Maoists are coming. Guess that\'s how you\'ll be portraying us in your pictures. Go ahead, click away," says a sarcastic soldier as he tells his uninterested friends to pose against their wishes.
JOIN US: A senior local Maoist leader, Puspa Bikram Malla, gives a fiery speech to the 10,000 villagers who had assembled here for a program organised on the eve of the unilateral Maoist ceasefire.
GIVE US PEACE: Thousands of villagers listen intently as the leaders talk about peace. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief as the leaders announced the blockade was over and peace was on its way.
TIME FOR JOY: Dance and music filled the village as the Maoists joined the cultural groups putting aside their guns shouting pro-loktantra slogans.
FEMALE MILITIA: Women now dominate many of the Maoist brigades. "We love peace too. Contrary to what everyone thinks, we\'re not warmongers," says this female commander.
TO KATHMANDU: People\'s Liberation Army is looking forward to come to the capital and join the much talked about the new Nepal National Army.