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Nepal's Maoists concede, ending impasse

KATHMANDU -- Nepal's Maoists agreed Tuesday to join the country's constituent assembly, ending a monthlong political deadlock and raising hopes of long-awaited political stability in the Himalayan nation.

A senior leader said the Maoists would take part in the new assembly after other political parties promised to probe their claims of vote-rigging in elections held last month.

“We have agreed to join the assembly and help draft a constitution,” Maoist official Narayan Kaji Shrestha told AFP.

The Maoists, who were routed at the polls, threw the country into renewed turmoil when they claimed fraud in the Nov. 19 elections, seen as key to completing a peace process after a 10-year civil war.

Millions of Nepalis voted in the elections, hoping to install a constituent assembly that would write a constitution and end years of political turmoil in the impoverished Himalayan nation.

The Maoists, who swept the country's first post-war elections in 2008, won just 80 out of 575 seats and came a distant third behind the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) parties.

Maoist rebel-turned-politician Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, demanded a halt to vote-counting and called for an investigation into alleged election fraud.

But Shrestha said the Maoists would formally sign a deal forged with the other parties, which includes a clause to conduct the vote-fraud investigation, on Tuesday afternoon, to join the assembly.

“We will forge the agreement for the sake of the peace process. If each party remains adamant on its position, then how can we reach a deal?” he said. “Our focus now is on delivering the constitution within a year.”

The Maoists, who ended their decadelong “People's War” with a peace deal in 2006, swept elections two years later, ending royal rule and ushering in a secular republic with Prachanda becoming Nepal's first post-war prime minister.

Since then, a series of coalition governments have squabbled and failed to write a constitution, forcing the collapse of the first constituent assembly in May 2012.

Prakash Man Singh, a senior leader from the Nepali Congress, which is expected to lead the country's new government, called the new agreement “a very positive development.”

“This agreement will help us convene the assembly soon. It shows that the Maoists have become flexible,” he told AFP.

As well as the investigation, the agreement includes a provision to conduct negotiations on constitutional matters via a cross-party committee, which will operate independently of the assembly.

The deal also calls for parties to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate atrocities committed by state forces and former rebels during the civil war, which left an estimated 16,000 people dead.

Political commentator Bishnu Sapkota expressed skepticism over the deal, saying “in the past, leaders have agreed to resolve many contentious issues but they haven't fulfilled those commitments.”

“The points raised in the new agreement are all good points but the problem begins when every party wants to implement it on their own terms,” Sapkota told AFP.

“I think the Maoists agreed to this deal for the sake of face saving.”

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