KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - The political turmoil that has roiled Nepal in recent weeks will not stop its peace process from moving forward, the country's prime minister said Saturday, adding that the former Maoist guerrillas still must prove that they are committed to negotiations.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, whose coalition government has been all but paralyzed by Maoist strikes and internal bickering since he came to power last month, said he expected the peace process and the new constitution to be completed by the May 2010 deadline.
The government "has extended its hand of cooperation to the Maoists," he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview, and the Maoists have pledged to negotiate seriously.
"If they are really honest in their words, then I hope ... we will be able to take the peace process to a positive conclusion," Nepal said.
While the Maoists' true commitment to the process remained unclear, he said he was still optimistic that "with some ups and downs, with some twists and turns, things will move forward."
Since joining the political mainstream in 2006, the Maoists have confined their nearly 20,000 fighters to U.N.-monitored camps. The former guerrillas have become among the most contentious unresolved issues of the peace process - Maoist leaders insist that they should be integrated into the national army, a move that military officials staunchly resist.
Maoist officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Nepal came to power after the previous prime minister, former Maoist rebel chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, resigned May 4 following a dispute with Nepal's president over the leadership of the country's army.
Since then, Dahal's party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has repeatedly blocked parliamentary proceedings and launched protests that have closed government offices. Meanwhile, the 22-party coalition that backs the new prime minister has been riven by disputes as various politicians fight for prime positions in the new cabinet.
The prime minister, who heads a mainstream communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), said Saturday that he hoped to have his cabinet installed within the next few days.
But the turmoil has all-but paralyzed substantive political discussions in Nepal, and local media reports say corrupt politicians have seized on the troubles to line their pockets with government contracts.
"The political void in Katmandu has enforced the perception of a weak state," the weekly Nepali Times said in a recent editorial. "This in turn has led to (the) further erosion of the rule of law, institutionalized impunity and has fanned anarchy."
The Maoists ended their decade-long armed struggle three years ago and entered an often-faltering peace process. They won general elections in 2008 but fell short of obtaining an outright parliamentary majority.
Dahal resigned after President Ram Baran Yadav rejected his sacking of the country's army chief, who had resisted efforts to integrate the former Maoist fighters.