Carter urges Nepal's Maoist faction to end violence

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Former US president Jimmy Carter on Monday called on a hardline Maoist faction in Nepal to renounce violence in the run-up to general elections expected in coming months.

Nepal's political system has operated in a legislative vacuum since May last year when parliament was dissolved after squabbling lawmakers failed to agree on a new constitution.

As part of a cross-party deal, Chief Justice Khilraj Regmi took over last month at the helm of an interim administration to oversee what will be only the second national polls since the end of a civil war in 2006.

Mr Carter, 88, met leaders of major parties during a four-day visit and said he was assured by Mr Mohan Baidya, the leader of a splinter Maoist faction, that they would not resort to violence.

"He assured me that there would be no harm to other people but I noticed in the news this morning that three election workers were kidnapped for six hours," the former US president said.

The Kathmandu Post, a local daily, reported that members of the radical group abducted government officials in central Nepal on Sunday.

"Kidnapping is a serious crime. This violence in order to accomplish a political goal is completely contrary to the commitment that the people of Nepal have made in the last five years since the war has been over," said Mr Carter.

Political infighting, which included a split in the ruling Maoist party last year, has confounded efforts to implement a plan to rebuild the country after its 10-year civil war in which about 16,000 people were killed.

The breakaway Maoist faction has in recent weeks disrupted voter registration by damaging computers at election offices nation wide. The party on Sunday rejected requests for talks with the interim administration.

Chief Justice Regmi's 11-member cabinet has not yet announced a date for elections, which political parties have agreed should be held by June 21. But Mr Carter expressed doubt that the country would be ready for polls by June.