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Nepal's Maoist Insurgents Declare Three-Month Cease-Fire

Nepal's Maoist insurgents have declared a unilateral three-month cease-fire. The move comes a day before parliament is to be reinstated, raising hopes that the rebels and government can work together to run a 10-year-old civil conflict.

Maoist leaders say they will refrain from carrying out attacks on Nepalese forces, because they want to give the country a chance at peace.

The offer of a three-month cease-fire came as thousands of Nepalis gathered in the capital Kathmandu for a peace rally. They are celebrating the what many are calling a victory of the pro-democracy movement over King Gyanendra.

Earlier this week, King Gyanendra capitulated to opposition parties and protesters when he agreed to reinstate parliament, which he had dismissed in May 2002. The move helped spark a political crisis which worsened in February last year, when King Gyanendra seized full control of the government, arresting political opponents and restricting civil liberties.

The king justified his actions by saying Nepal's bickering political parties had failed to stop the Maoist insurgency, which has waged a bloody campaign to oust the king since 1996.

But his move galvanized the political parties, seven of which formed an alliance and organized wave after wave of anti-government protests. They culminated earlier this week with tens of thousands marching in increasingly violent confrontations with security forces that saw 14 people die. King Gyanendra conceded, and agreed to reinstate parliament.

For some, the offer of a cease-fire by the Maoists has helped turn anger at the king into renewed enthusiasm that Nepal can finally achieve peace.

Madhav Kumar Nepal is a leader in the seven party opposition alliance.

"It is a positive response from the Maoists, [a] positive gesture from the Maoists," Nepal said. "So the government should also, from their part, announce a cease-fire - not for three months, but six months."

When it meets Friday, parliament is expected to announce plans to hold an election for a new Constituent Assembly - a key demand by both the opposition alliance and the Maoists.

Some think legislators can go further. Shambhu Thapa is the president of the influential Nepal Bar Association. He wants parliament to consider nullifying its terror legislation, which outlaws the Maoists, so that parliament can be used as a forum for the start of peace talks.

"They must come - and parliament should be regarded as a political venue, as a political forum to discuss everything," he said.

Still, there is some distrust of the politicians. Many at the peace rally carried banners and signs warning politicians not to resume their bickering or to make the same mistakes of the past.