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03KATHMANDU1552 2003-08-14 10:42:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

NEPAL: GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATOR "CAUTIOUSLY

Tags:   PGOV PTER ASEC CASC NP 
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1. (C) The Government of Nepal's (GON) peace negotiator and
Information Minister Kamal Thapa told the Ambassador on
August 14 that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the third
round of talks with Maoist insurgents, scheduled to be held
in the southwestern city of Nepalgunj on August 17. Instead
of allowing the Maoists to determine the agenda and dominate
the discussion as happened in earlier rounds of talks, the
GON team plans to present a "comprehensive" package of
political reform proposals during the meeting. Thapa said
that in a private meeting with Maoist ideologue Baburam
Bhattarai on August 12 he asked that the insurgents halt
their threats against US-sponsored development programs.
Thapa promised the Ambassador to raise the safety and
security of all foreign aid workers in the talks on August


17. According to Thapa, Bhattarai credited Indian pressure
in part for the Maoist agreement to meet for a third round.
End summary.



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NEGOTIATIONS IN NEPALGUNJ


--------------------------





2. (U) After a hiatus of more than three
months--interspersed with informal Government-Maoist meetings
and repeated Maoist threats to return to violence--the
Government of Nepal (GON) announced on August 12 that the
long-delayed third round of talks will be held on August 17
in the southwestern city of Nepalgunj. (Note: Nepalgunj,
located less than five km from the Indian border, is also
home to the Royal Nepal Army's Western Division. End note.)
This round will mark the negotiating debut of the new GON
team appointed by Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa on June


12. Information Minister and GON negotiator Kamal Thapa told
the press that he and Maoist negotiator Baburam Bhattarai had
agreed on a date and venue for the third round after meeting
together informally in Nepalgunj on August 12.



--------------------------


MAOISTS "IN A HURRY" TO HUDDLE?


--------------------------





3. (C) In an August 14 conversation with the Ambassador, GON
negotiator Thapa offered more detail on his three-hour,
one-on-one meeting with Bhattarai that resulted in the
agreement to hold the August 17 round. Thapa first commented
that he was "not very optimistic" about the outcome of the
talks, an assessment he upgraded later in the course of his
remarks to "cautiously optimistic." Thapa reported that
Bhattarai had struck him as "very much in a hurry" to hold
the third round and not much interested in discussing details
of the agenda. Bhattarai had indicated that the Maoists were
facing significant pressure from a number of quarters,
including civil society and the international
community--particularly India--to agree to a third round. He
added that he had also agreed to Bhattarai's request to hold
another session of talks in Dang District after the August 17
round. (Note: Dang, a Maoist stronghold in southwestern
Nepal, was the scene of the insurgents' first attack on the
Royal Nepal Army, which ended the ceasefire in November 2001.
End note.) Thapa said he had no idea why the Maoists
requested Dang as a site, other than that they likely feel
"more comfortable" in an area where they are particularly
active in training, smuggling, etc.



--------------------------


SECURITY OF FOREIGN AID WORKERS,
PROJECTS TO BE ON AGENDA


--------------------------





4. (C) Thapa told the Ambassador that he had raised Maoist
threats against U.S.-sponsored development programs with
Bhattarai during the August 12 meeeting, asking if the
increasingly shrill anti-US rhetoric represents a change in
insurgent policy or strategy. Thapa reportedly urged the
Maoists to halt the threatening statements, adding that the
anti-US vitriol looked as if the Maoists were attempting to
appease India. Bhattarai denied that there had been a shift
in strategy, saying instead that the campaign reflected
"ground realities." He rejected the suggestion that the
insurgents might be using the anti-US rhetoric to appease
India, pointing instead to Maoist concerns that the Indians
were becoming "active" with Nepali political parties. (Note:
This is more than a bit disingenuous on Bhattarai's part.
The Indian Government's "active" engagement with Nepal's
political parties, and especially with the Nepali Congress,
is widely known and spans decades. End note.)



5. (C) The Ambassador asked Thapa to press the Maoists
during the August 17 round to respect the safety and security
of all foreign aid workers and projects. Thapa undertook to
do so.



--------------------------


THIS ROUND NOT TO FOLLOW PAST PATTERN


--------------------------





6. (C) The GON side will be prepared to address the Maoists'
political agenda during the August 17 round, Thapa explained.
That said, he emphasized that the current team will break
with the passive style adopted by GON negotiators in the two
previous rounds held under the former interim government. In
those sessions, the GON side had permitted the Maoist
proposals to form the whole framework of the talks without
offering any counter-proposals or initiatives of its own, he
said. Instead of allowing Maoist demands to dictate the
agenda and dominate the discussions, Thapa reported that his
two-man team plans to present the Maoists with "a
comprehensive package of political reforms," including
possible Constitutional amendments, for discussion. GON
negotiators will make clear, however, that the government
cannot and will not compromise on three core principles: the
constitutional monarchy; multi-party democracy; and the
sovereignty of the people. (Note: These three points are
among the "unalterable" elements of the Constitution which
the Maoists insist that a constituent assembly must address.
End note.)



7. (C) The Ambassador asked if the GON negotiators had
shared their draft political proposals with representatives
of the mainstream democratic parties. Thapa replied that he
had briefed the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal -
United Marxist Leninist and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party on
August 14, planned to speak with former Prime Minister and
Nepali Congress (Democratic) Party leader Sher Bahadur Deuba
later the same day, and a senior representative of the Nepali
Congress Party on August 15. He promised to send the Embassy
a final copy of the draft proposals.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





8. (C) Finally setting a date for this long-delayed round of
talks is reason enough for "cautious optimism." The current
team of GON negotiators clearly is approaching the upcoming
round of talks with a better defined strategy and more
proactive approach than its hapless predecessor. It is not
at all clear, however, that the Maoists are prepared to
pursue negotiations in which they will be called upon to make
some basic political concessions. We therefore share Thapa's
limited expectations for significant results. If nothing
else, the session can provide a valuable opportunity to
impress once again upon the Maoists our concerns about the
security of American citizens and interests, including
US-funded development projects and their staff.



MALINOWSKI