KATHMANDU, May 4 (AFP): Nepal's new interim government said Thursday it would release jailed Maoist leaders if the rebels joined talks to end a bloody 10-year insurgency that has left more than 12,500 people dead.
The government has contacted the rebel leadership which was "willing" to take part in a peace process, according to reports, after the start of only the third ceasefire observed by both sides.
Nepal's cabinet Wednesday announced an indefinite ceasefire and removed the terrorist tag from the Maoists to try to kickstart talks and bring peace to the impoverished Himalayan nation.
"We have already called the Maoists to talks and once the dialogue process starts, the rebel leaders detained in various prisons will also be released," cabinet member Gopal Man Shrestha told AFP.
Thousands have been detained during one of the world's longest Maoist insurgencies although it was not immediately clear how many rebel leaders are currently held.
The Royal Nepalese Army website details 53 people on its "most wanted" list of Maoists, headed by rebel chief Prachanda, whose name means the "fierce one".
"We have contacted the Maoist leadership and found them willing to take the peace process ahead," Interior Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula was quoted as saying by The Kathmandu Post.
Constant battles between the rural-based Maoists and the security forces have resulted in a stalemate although Gyanendra had vowed to crush the rebellion after he sacked the government in February 2005.
Analysts say the Maoists do not have the ability to take the government's urban centres while the under-equipped army cannot defeat the rebels in their often mountainous rural strongholds.
Before the government's ceasefire call, Prachanda Wednesday ruled out disarming his forces and launched a scathing attack on the nation's new political leadership in comments posted on the organisation's website.
Prachanda said it would be "suicidal" for his fighters to disarm after a decade-long insurgency while armed forces remained ready for action.
"If anybody is thinking of disarming the Maoists while keeping the 'Royal' army as it is, then they are having a suicidal dream," the article said.