Nepal Maoist chief Prachanda now gets peace award (Lead)

June 16th, 2008 - 11:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 16 (IANS) In a sign of the changing times, Prachanda, the chief of Nepal’s Maoist party who led a relentless 10-year guerrilla war against the state to overthrow the Shah dynasty of kings and establish a republic, has been chosen for a top peace award. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who assumed the name Prachanda - which means fearsome - to launch a “people’s war” in 1996 that killed over 13,000 people, has been nominated for this year’s Dr Dilli Raman Regmi National Peace Award which carries a purse of Nepali Rs.100,000 ($1,600).

Prachanda, who also heads the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army and looks poised to become the next prime minister of Nepal, will share the honour with former Nobel peace laureate and US president Jimmy Carter.

The award had previously gone to, among others, former South African president Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

A press statement issued by the Dr Dilli Raman Regmi Foundation said the board had decided to honour Prachanda because of his “unwavering contribution to establishing a democratic federal republic in Nepal, implementing the constituent assembly agenda and restoring lasting peace”.

The announcement came Sunday, when Nepal’s Narayanhity Palace, once the abode of its powerful Shah kings, was formally taken over by the government, signifying the fall and abolition of Nepal’s 239-year-old crown and the Maoist dream coming close to fulfilment.

Till two years ago, the Maoist party was an underground organisation hunted down by the army and Prachanda carried a price on his head.

But after the fall of king Gyanendra’s army-backed government in 2006 and the Maoists signing a peace pact that ended the 10-year uprising, Prachanda has established himself as a major political player in Nepal.

The US, which had in the past branded the Maoists as a terrorist organisation, has begun to thaw towards the former guerrillas while Russia and China, two governments that had in the past supported King Gyanendra’s coup in 2005 and war on the Maoists, this year extended invitations to Prachanda to visit their country.

Prachanda recently compared himself to ancient Indian emperor Ashoka, once a bloodthirsty king who became a pacifist after witnessing the deaths and suffering in the wake of a mighty battle.

Nepal’s media has now started calling him Pushpa Kamal Dahal to signify his makeover as the chief of a mainstream political party.

However, Nepal’s other major parties, which were humbled in the last election by the Maoists, say they still have reservations about the former rebels’ commitment to peace.

The Maoists have refused to dismantle their militant youth wing, the Young Communist League, which was dubbed the Young Criminal League by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala for its frequent attempts to take the law into its own hands.

Prachanda has also refused to relinquish his position as supreme commander of the guerrilla army.

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