30 September 2004

Deuba not keen on another ceasefire

30 September 2004
The Hindu

Deuba not keen on another ceasefire

By Siddharth Varadarajan

KATHMANDU, SEPT 29. Bolstered by the flow of weapons from India and elsewhere for its counter-insurgency operations and fearful that the Maoist rebels might regroup, the Nepalese Government is not keen on another ceasefire with the insurgents.

In an exclusive interview with The Hindu at his office in the Singh Darbar on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, said his Government feared the Maoists would use the opportunity provided by any ceasefire to "prepare for fresh attacks."

`Discreet talks'

However, the absence of a ceasefire did not mean there would be no communication between the Government and the Maoists. Mr. Deuba said "discreet talks" were needed rather than a dialogue conducted through the media.

With the public clamour for a ceasefire and dialogue process growing, Mr. Deuba said the Cabinet on Thursday would take stock of the proposals made at the Government's High-levelPeace Committee (HPC) meeting on Tuesday. On top of the list is the call by Madhav Nepal, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist-Leninist (UML), for a unilateral ceasefire during the Dasein (puja) holidays in October.

"So many things have to be taken into consideration before a ceasefire," said the Prime Minister. "So I think our answer is going to be `No'."

Towards the end of the interview, however, he struck a more ambiguous note. "I am not ruling out the possibility of a ceasefire but I am not going to say anything now."

Mr. Deuba said "our past experience suggests the modalities should be changed." Rather than an open dialogue, conducted in the full glare of the media, "there is need for discreet talks... If things are done in the open, you inevitably hit a problem. Positions harden and it becomes very hard to compromise."

Asked whether his ambivalence towards a ceasefire and talks with the Maoists was because of Army pressure — the military feel the Maoists are calling for dialogue because they have been weakened — Mr. Deuba said his Government "definitely has sympathy for the Army and we don't want to demoralise them." He said the Army would follow the Government's orders but "we should also appreciate their apprehensions."

The Prime Minister denied the growing international military assistance his Government was receiving — including from India — was obviating the need for a dialogue. "We have never said there is a military solution to the problem, but we can't remain idle. We have to strengthen our security forces. It is only when there is no problem (of insurgency) that we will no longer need weapons."

No `goodwill' gestures

Mr. Deuba also refused to consider making gestures such as lifting the "red-corner" notices from top Maoist leaders and removing the "terrorist" tag in order to create a conducive climate for talks. "Look, as far as any dialogue is concerned, we will ensure full security and safe passage for the people who will come to the negotiating table." Granting other concessions "may be seen by some as a good gesture but it has been counter-productive for us too," he added.

Turning to the six questions raised last week by the Maoist leader, Prachanda, in response to the HPC's appeal to the rebels to come forward for talks, Mr. Deuba said the HPC might have discussed the matter "but I don't think I have to reply each time."

Prachanda had asked whether the Government really had the opportunity to conduct negotiations given that it was beholden to King Gyanendra. "These questions have been framed to drive a wedge between the Palace and the parties," the Prime Minister said.

Would the King play a role in framing the government's policy on a ceasefire? "There is no harm in consulting the King," Mr. Deuba replied. "But he won't object, whatever we do."

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