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Nepal's major parties hope deal on demobilizing ex-rebels leads to broader peace
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) ' Nepal's main political parties said Wednesday they hope a historic agreement allowing some former rebel fighters to enter the country's army and giving others cash to start new lives will create momentum for reaching a full peace deal.
The leaders of the country's four main parties agreed late Tuesday to integrate one-third of the former Maoist rebels into the army and give money to the remainder.
The agreement removed a major stumbling block in efforts to finalize a peace agreement following the bloody Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006. But it now puts pressure on the coalition government to overcome political paralysis and get on with the job of writing a new constitution that will determine how Nepal develops after years of civil war and upheaval.
The parties agreed to finish a draft of the long-delayed constitution within a month.
Maoist party leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal said the agreement should give reassurance that the South Asian nation was on the right track.
"The agreement is what the people have been anticipating for a long time. It is now our challenge to complete the peace process," said Dahal, whose party of former rebels is now the largest in Parliament.
Under the agreement, 6,500 of the 19,000 former Maoist rebels who had been demobilized and living in camps for five years will be integrated into the national army, but only in noncombat roles.
The remaining ex-fighters will be offered a rehabilitation package with up to 900,000 rupees ($11,500) in startup cash to begin their new lives.
The Maoists had been pushing for their fighters to be folded into the army, a demand resisted by military leaders and other parties. Both sides appeared to have compromised.
"It took years to reach this point and now the path is open," said Pradeep Gyawali of Nepal's Marxist party.
The United States welcomed the agreement.
"We commend all parties for their statesmanship and leadership in forging this consensus, which we believe is a crucial step toward ensuring a democratic, stable, and prosperous future for Nepal," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.
The new deal put pressure on the Maoists and their recently installed coalition government to quickly finish the job of restoring normalcy to a country still recovering from war, mired in poverty and suffering from political paralysis.
"It is now up to the Maoists as the party leading the government and key role player in the peace process to steer things forward in the right direction and soon. We have done all we can," said Prakash Man Singh of the Nepali Congress party.
The movement in the stalled peace efforts came after the Maoists, who had been forced out of the government by a coalition of smaller parties, took power again in August.
Now the parties are hoping to concentrate on the last major hurdle ' the new constitution.
An interim constitution was to have expired in May 2010, but with coalition governments repeatedly collapsing, the legislators made little headway in drafting a permanent document. The interim document has been extended three times, with the latest deadline for a new constitution in a month.
The parties agreed Tuesday to at least have a draft constitution by then.
The Maoists gave up their decade-long armed revolt in 2006, confined their fighters to U.N.-monitored camps, locked up their weapons and joined mainstream politics.