India not interfering, Saran tells Nepal Maoists
Kathmandu: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy to Nepal Shyam Saran began his whirlwind consultations Thursday by first holding talks with the top leaders of the Maoist party.
The Maoist party had asked New Delhi not to interfere in the crucial prime ministerial election Friday and the formation of a new government.
Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary as well as ambassador to Nepal during the height of the Maoist insurgency, held a nearly an-hour long dialogue with Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as well as Prachanda's three deputies, Baburam Bhattarai, Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Mohan Vaidya.
The current Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood as well as two other Maoist leaders, Ram Bahadur Thapa and Krishna Bahadur Mahara, were also present at Thursday's meeting in Prachanda's residence in the capital.
Saran told the media the talks had been extremely fruitful. He would also be meeting caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Sushil Koirala, chief of the Nepali Congress party that along with the Maoists is taking part in the poll Friday.
Soon after his almost unheralded arrival in Kathmandu Wednesday, Saran held informal parleys over dinner with the four ethnic parties from the Terai plains, whose support will prove crucial in the election.
Maoist deputy chief and MP Shrestha told the media that Saran had come to express India's concern about the peace process and the drafting of a new constitution by May 2011 and to see how India could help.
The Indian envoy had assured the Maoist leaders that his visit was not intended to pressure the parties and influence Friday's election. India wanted to improve ties with Nepal and had put its concerns frankly before the Maoists, Shrestha said.
Saran had also expressed New Delhi's concern over the fate of more than 19,600 fighters of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army who have been lying in the doldrums since the end of the Maoist insurgency in 2006 and the signing of a peace agreement.
The Maoists have remained at loggerheads with the ruling parties on the induction of the PLA in the national army and rehabilitating those who wanted to opt out.
The issue has remained a major hurdle that derailed three rounds of elections with the parties failing to elect a new prime minister.
The Maoist leadership held a meeting as Saran arrived in Kathmandu on his new mission Wednesday. The meeting agreed to hold talks with him as long as India showed mere concern in the peace process and constitution and did not seek to make the parties toe its line during Friday's polls.
The prime ministerial election Friday will be an acid test for Saran.
The Maoists Thursday declined to withdraw Prachanda as their candidate. Though he could not acquire simple majority in the three earlier rounds, Prachanda is hoping to get the figures right Friday with the Terai parties beginning to stray from the party fold to vote for him.