Nepal gets weekend deadline to resolve Maoist closure



Kathmandu: As Nepal Thursday reeled under a general strike called by the opposition Maoist party for the fifth consecutive day, western governments who form the bulk of the nation's donors, asked embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to reach an understanding by the weekend.

The ambassadors of European Union (EU) member states Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Britain, a European Union delegation based in Kathmandu and the ambassadors of Norway and Switzerland, which are not EU members, had been invited by the prime minister for a briefing Wednesday when he sought to win the support of the international community for his beleaguered government.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, as violence started erupting countrywide with people clashing with Maoist protesters, the envoys said they were concerned at the disruption and incidents of violence caused by the strike.

The delegation has asked the Prime Minister to negotiate a solution with the Maoists by the weekend, the statement said.

This is the first time the indefinite strike has been given a time frame. The Maoists have vowed to keep up the closure till the Prime Minister resigns.

The PM, on his part, told the international community he would step down only if the Maoists won the support of the majority of MPs in Parliament to remove him constitutionally.

The other option, he said, was consensus. For that, Nepal said the Maoists would have to agree to extend a constitutional deadline and avert a severe crisis that is feared from May 28. They have to also empty the barracks of their guerrilla fighters and return the public property they captured during a decade of insurgency.

Nepal has refused to resign otherwise, saying it would create a bad precedent if a party managed to oust a "constitutionally formed" government by muscle power and street protests.

But despite the bravado, Nepal may have to go with the Maoists refusing to call off their pro-tests and beginning negotiations till he quits.

"The peace process is under strain, and all parties should avoid provocative statements and actions," said French ambassador Gilles-Henry Garault, local presidency of the EU.

The statement comes close on the heels of the UN expressing concern, saying Nepal had reached a "critical juncture".

In a report placed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the UN Security Council in New York Wednesday, Ban said Nepal faced "an accumulation of unimplemented peace process commitments and a fast-approaching constitutional deadline, placing the process...at a critical juncture".

"At the core of the stalemate rest disagreements over integration and rehabilitation (of Maoist soldiers), certain key aspects of a new constitution, and power-sharing," the report said. "These appear to be compounded by mutual mistrust, insufficient political will and weak mechanisms for the implementation of past agreements."

IANS