By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA, Associated Press Writer Fri May 26, 8:13 AM ET
KATMANDU, Nepal - Nepal’s new government and communist rebels began peace talks Friday aimed at ending the Himalayan nation’s decade-long conflict, officials said.
Home Minister Krishna Sitaula said before the meeting that there were "no differences" between the rebels and the government, which took office last month after weeks of bloody protests forced King Gyanendra to relinquish control over the country.
"The talks should be successful," said Sitaula, one of three ministers in the government’s delegation to the talks at a golf club in the capital of Katmandu.
The rebels backed last month’s protest and general strike, organized largely by politicians now in power. The collaboration helped forge a link between the new government and the insurgents that has made early moves toward peace relatively painless for both sides.
The government has released hundreds of rebels from jail, dropped terrorism charges against them, and agreed to a cease-fire. It also has agreed to rewrite the constitution, a key rebel demand that crippled peace talks in 2001 and 2003.
Krishna Mahara, the leader of the rebel delegation, met earlier Friday with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to decide on an agenda and code of conduct for the talks, officials said.
There was no immediate word on how long the talks would last, or even if they would continue past Friday.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, began fighting to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist state in 1996. The fighting has killed 13,000 people.