Nepal rebel leader hints at cease-fire

Nepal's communist rebels are considering an extension of their unilateral cease-fire when it expires this weekend, their leader said Thursday. "At a time when the cease-fire is about to expire and when we have been indicating an extension of the cease-fire ... the feudal elements have been accelerating military terrorism," rebel leader Prachanda said in a statement posted on the rebels' Web site.

Little detail was included in the statement, which was issued to condemn an army attack on a rebel gathering in which two local rebel commanders were killed and an army helicopter was damaged.

Since declaring the unilateral cease-fire on Sept. 3 in hopes of reviving peace talks, the rebels have reached an agreement with an alliance of seven top political parties to step up protests demanding that King Gyanendra restore democracy.

The rebels and the parties also pledged to cooperate in reinstating a parliament, forming a government, and conducting elections for a special assembly that would draft a new constitution, a condition long sought by the rebels.

The rebels also said they would end their insurgency, in which about 12,000 people have died, and give up their arms under international supervision if an election for a special assembly is held. The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, have been fighting since 1996 to topple Nepal's monarchy and establish a communist state.

Rebel violence has escalated since King Gyanendra seized absolute control of the government on Feb. 1, a move he said was needed to quell the communist insurgency. The political parties have been organizing street protests against Gyanendra and the royal government.

"Despite the government provoking the rebels, they have hinted at extending the cease-fire, agreeing to our pleas," said Ram Chandra Poudel of Nepali Congress, the largest political party, reports the AP. I.L.

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