Nepali Times


Perhaps all is not lost if the warring sides in Nepal's conflict still talk about a negotiated solution. It means they are responding to public pressure for a new truce.

However, there is a danger this is only lip service. Also, the reward in the form of legitimacy for whoever can end the violence is so great that there is intense competition to be the peacemaker.

Just about everyone claims to have back channels open with the Maoists. The NC's Girija Prasad Koirala says he is talking, the UML says it has been in contact, palace officials have said privately their emissaries have been in touch, and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's unexplained disappearance in Bangkok led to wild speculation that he was secretly meeting Maoists at the sidelines of the BIMST-EC Summit. Advisers hinted it was a health checkup.

Civil society reps and peace activists say they are in regular touch with the Maoists ("we don't call them, they call us") and the Maoists have used them to put out pre-conditions for a truce and talks: an agreement to discuss a constituent assembly and UN mediation. Activists note the government only needs to agree to talk about a constituent assembly, and the call for UN mediation just a way to guarantee the safety of top cadre in future talks.

On Wednesday, government spokesman and the palace's man in the Deuba cabinet, Mohamad Mohsin, summoned the Kathmandu-based international press to say the government may be in contact with the Maoists, adding that initial talks have to be held in secret. "Things will be made public only when there is an agreement on a ceasefire," he told us. "To make talks successful we can't conduct them in a blaze of publicity."

The UML and other parties in the coalition have publicly berated their own government for dragging its feet on negotiations. The UML has staked its survival in the coalition on a truce and creating the conditions for elections. Privately, UML ministers complain that Deuba is too beholden to the army to take any unilateral peace initiative.
The UN Secretary General's special envoy, Samuel Tamarat, is in Kathmandu this week in what is described as a "fact-finding mission to offer UN good offices".

But sources at the UN in New York told us the visit by Assistant Secretary General Kul Chandra Gautam, the highest ranking Nepali in the UN system, next week is not "on assignment" for Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Tamarat met Deuba on Thursday afternoon and his visit comes amidst signs of a softening on India's rejection of UN mediation. Before leaving Nepal as ambassador last month, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told media it was "up to Nepal" to decide on UN mediation.

More significantly, Saran said: "How India will deal with Nepali Maoist rebels found in India will depend on the finalisation of the extradition treaty which is being discussed between India and Nepal for amendment."

Another figure who says he is in close touch with the Maoists is former minister last year's coordinator of the government negotiation team, Narayan Singh Pun of the Samata Party.

"The Maoists have told me they are ready for talks if the state agrees to continue where it left off last August," Pun told us. "Given the authority, I can resume negotiations within one month. But I see no current moves in that direction."

Other activists say it is wishful thinking for government officials to claim they are talking to the Maoists. Said one: "As far as I know, there has been no contact at all. The two sides are still poles apart."

(With additional reporting by Navin Singh Khadka)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)