Nepalese officials have met with leaders of the country's communist rebel movement for the first peace talks in three years. The discussions are meant to lead toward resolution of a 10-year-long civil conflict, and to pave the way for elections for a new constituent assembly that will determine the future of the country's monarchy.
Three senior government officials met Friday with three members of Nepal's so-called Maoist rebellion, the start of talks that many hope will bring an end to years of bloodshed.
The opening discussions, held on the outskirts of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, were expected to set an agenda for eventual talks between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, and Prachanda, the reclusive leader of the Maoist movement.
Mr. Koirala received the head of the Maoist delegation on Friday morning.
It is not the first time the politicians and the rebels have cooperated. The two sides joined forces last year to pressure King Gyanendra to reinstate parliament, and restore the civil liberties he suspended in February 2005.
The king had justified his takeover by saying that, with the politicians failing to end the insurgency, Nepal was at risk of becoming a failed state.
Rajan Bhattarai is a spokesman for the Communist Party of Nepal/United Marxist Leninist, the merger of two separate mainstream communist parties. He says that earlier cooperation makes him hopeful these talks might succeed.
"We are quite hopeful on our part, and we also expect that the Maoists are also sincere, and they are also serious," he said. "They know that the overwhelming [number] of Nepalese people want peace to be restored in the country."
More than 12,000 people have died since the Maoists launched their movement to topple the monarchy 10 years ago. In 2001 and 2003, peace talks between the government and the rebels failed.
But the political dynamic shifted after King Gyanendra seized control of the government last year. The political parties and the Maoists formed a loose alliance. In April, massive anti-government protests in the streets of the capital forced the king to give in to the opposition's demands to restore parliament.
Since then, parliament has moved to curtail the king's powers, including ending his control over the armed forces. It also lifted the formal designation of the Maoists as "terrorists."
Both sides want to hold elections for a new constituent assembly. That body will then determine whether Nepal's monarchy should be abolished, as the Maoists want, or will retain a ceremonial role, as proposed by some political leaders.