Nepal's prime minister to begin peace talks with rebel envoy

Nepal's prime minister and a top rebel envoy agreed to an informal meeting between the sides Friday to launch peace talks aimed at ending the Himalayan nation's decade-long conflict, a government official said. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala met at his official residence with Krishna Mahara, head of the three-member rebel negotiating team, and agreed to start the talks with an informal meeting between the sides later Friday, Civil Aviation Minister Pradeep Gyawali said.

Friday's meeting would likely decide on the agenda and code of conduct for the talks, said Gyawali, a member of the government's peace team. However, the venue of the meeting had not yet been decided, he said. Nepal's new government, which took office after King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish his control over the administration last month, has made substantial moves toward peace with the rebels.

It has released hundreds of rebels from jail, dropped terrorism charges against them, and matched a rebel cease-fire. It also has agreed to rewrite the constitution, a key rebel demand that crippled the earlier peace talks. The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, began fighting to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist state in 1996.

Mahara was a rebel negotiator during unsuccessful peace talks in 2001 and 2003, and heads a team of three rebel envoys already in Katmandu. The government team is headed by Home Minister Krishna Sitaula, and includes Labor and Transport Minister Ramesh Lekhak as well as Gyawali, reports the AP.

N.U.