Nepali Times

January: After months of secret negotiations, a ceasefire is declared. The government withdraws the terrorist label and bounty on capture of Maoists.

February: Maoists organise mass meetings in various cities, including Kathmandu. Baburam Bhattarai and Ram Bahadur Thapa make public appearances for the first time. Government forms negotiating team headed by Minister Narayan Singh Pun.

March: First formal peace talks between the government and Maoists begin in Kathmandu. Despite the ceasefire, Maoist extortion and threats continue throughout the country although there aren't any major clashes.

April: Tourism in the peak trekking season is hit by the effect of SARS, China seals border. A Himalmedia poll on Nepali new year shows 70% of Nepalis think Maoist demands can be met by peaceful means and 20 percent would vote for them if they lay down arms.

May: Five parties launch first phase of agitation to force the king to reverse his 4 October move. Their demand: either restore parliament or form an all-party government. The United States lists Maoists as a terrorist organisation, prompting the rebels to harden their anti-American stance. Nepal benefits from worldwide publicity at the Everest Golden Jubilee celebrations. New records and traffic jams on the world's highest mountain.

June: Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigns, setting off a scramble to replace him. King Gyanendra asks parties to recommend candidate, but opts for Surya Bahadur Thapa instead of Madhab Nepal. Parties close down 8,000 schools all over the country for a week.

July: In response to a Maoist demand, the government frees three rebel leaders to resume peace talks. Agitating parties come up with an 18-point program aimed at curtailing royal powers. There are no signs of reconstruction
and rehabilitation as the period of no war no peace drags on.

August: Children are declared a zone of peace. Army kills 17 Maoists in Doramaba just as talks are being held in Dang. Maoists declare an end to the ceasefire, government restores terrorist tag. Maoists begin urban assassination killing senior army colonel in Kathmandu.

September: Nepal joins the WTO in Cancun. Conflict escalates with heavy Maoist casualties. Maoists take attacks down to the tarai. Kathmandu-based ambassadors lean on parties to patch up with king, they tone down agitation.
October: Under pressure from civil society Maoists declare a 9-day unilateral Dasai ceasefire. Security forces continue operations. The CIAA arrests former Nepali Congress and RPP ministers for corruption. Global Nepali diaspora holds its first ever conference in Kathmandu.

November: The government sets up a 'unified command' under the army and says it will arm villagers to resist Maoists. Both moves condemned by rights groups and donors. Maoists use landmines to target security patrols with devastating effect. Interpol once again issues red corner notice against 11 Maoist leaders. Despite insurgency, tourism rebounds.

December: Five parties resume agitation, arrest of three student leaders angers protestors. Government announces amnesty and rehabilitation for Maoists who surrender. National Human Rights Commission issues
list of more than 808 people disappeared by both sides.

Best and worst case scenarios

As 2003 draws to a close, neither the palace and the parties, nor the army and the Maoists show signs of negotiating. What is in store for 2004?

Best case scenario: Palace and the parties agree on a national government that will rise above vested interest to agree on a ceasefire, while working towards local elections. The Maoists could be persuaded to join the political mainstream and contest parliamentary elections in two years.

Worst case scenario: The king and parties carry on as sworn enemies, pushing the parties to join the Maoists in a republican cause. The parties' agitation merges with the insurgency and the country sinks further into anarchy, the insurgency takes on an ethnic edge, there is greater militarisation, more human rights violations and at least another decade of worthless conflict.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)