Swiss bring together warring Nepalese parties

The Maoist rebels have been fighting to topple Nepal's monarchy since 1996 swissinfo.ch

Switzerland this week brought together Maoists and Nepalese government officials to discuss ways to build on a three-week old ceasefire.

This content was published on February 22, 2003 - 12:14

Both sides said the six-day meeting, organised by the Swiss Development Agency (SDC), had been useful and hoped it would help put an end to the bloody conflict in the Himalayan kingdom.

The uprising in Nepal has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 1996, when the Maoists took up arms in a bid to overthrow the royal family and impose a communist state.

Twenty representatives from both sides attended the meeting, which wrapped up this week.

The creation of the Swiss canton of Jura was cited as an example on how to solve a constitutional crisis and minority conflicts during the seminar on conflict management and peace building.

Krishna P Khanal, professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, said the seminar provided a great platform for dialogue.

"This was the first opportunity for both sides to meet. We had not been in touch with the Maoists face to face. The seminar provided a good platform for discussion and there is a lot of understanding between the political parties, including the Maoists, " he told swissinfo.

Building peace

Pratap Raj Onta, a Maoist representative, was also pleased with the outcome of the meeting, saying Switzerland had been helpful in bringing both sides closer.

"It was very easy for us to talk here and I think we've built up a good relationship," Onta told swissinfo.

Onta said he hoped that the current ceasefire and subsequent talks would bring an end the bloodshed in Nepal.

"We hope that the violence will stop and we'll take any measure to achieve our goals peacefully," he explained. "Our main aim is the establishment of an interim government that includes Maoists... and the election of an assembly."

Jhala Nath Khanal of Nepal's communist party said it was important to meet but was more cautious about the long-term prospects for peace.

"How this temporary peace will become permanent still has to be seen," he explained.

"All participants concerned with this process should come together and only then could this problem be solved."

Call for help

The SDC organised the seminar after last year Nepalese officials had called on the Swiss government to provide them not only with development aid but also with some political know-how.

"Some of my Nepalese colleagues asked me why we have never given them a chance to get an insight into decision making in Switzerland and they wanted to know more about our political system," said Paul Egger, head of the Agency's Asian division.

Egger described the meeting as a success and said he was impressed by the way both sides treated each other during the talks.

"There is enormous confidence among the participants and an extraordinary interest in listening to each other and understanding each other's position," Egger added.

Support

The Swiss government said it would continue supporting Nepal in its efforts to stop the conflict but stressed that the bulk of the work had to be done by the Nepalese government and Maoist rebels.

"What we can do is assist the government and the stakeholders in this process but the main responsibility is with the actors," Egger said.

Nepal is among the poorest countries in the world with nearly half of its population living below the poverty line.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling

Key facts

The Maoists have been fighting to topple the Nepalese monarchy since 1996.
The insurgency has claimed more than 7,000 lives.
The cease-fire was agreed upon on January 29, 2003.
The Swiss Development Agency has been providing aid to Nepal for more than 40 years.

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