New Nepal PM sends envoys to woo China, India

August 15, 2016 2:58 AM EDT

Newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, (L) reads the oath paper upon his arrival to administers the oath of office at the presidential building "Shital Niwas" in Kathmandu, Nepal, August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Navesh


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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda sent one of his trusted lieutenants from the insurgency period as a special envoy to China on Monday, seeking to clear confusion over the future of agreements signed by his predecessor.

The envoy, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is a deputy premier in charge of finance and a China expert, will carry a message from Prachanda that his new government is keen to develop cordial relations with China despite recent political changes.

Prachanda, 61, who led a decade-long insurgency that ended a feudal monarchy, replaced communist K.P. Oli this month amid uncertainty about a slew of deals made by Oli during a visit to Beijing in March, including allowing Nepal to use Chinese railways, roads and ports to trade with third countries.

Those deals signaled a shift by the landlocked Himalayan nation away from its traditional reliance on overland trade with its southern neighbor India, which grew increasingly frustrated with Oli's rule.

"There is no doubt that the new government will continue all positive agreements signed by the previous government," Mahara told Reuters before his departure.

Prachanda led the uprising in the name of the Chinese revolutionary leader, but it did not enjoy the overt backing of Beijing. The conflict ended in 2006 when the rebels laid down their arms under a peace deal.

Instability in the young republic - Prachanda is the eighth prime minister in as many years - has also raised doubts over a planned visit by Xi Jinping in October, which would be the first by a Chinese president in two decades.

Mahara said he was carrying an invitation from President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to the Chinese leader to come as planned.

Officials said Prachanda would send another deputy, Bimelandra Nidhi, a member of the Madhesi minority community, as an emissary to India this week to give reassurances that closer ties with Beijing would not come at the cost of New Delhi.

Nepal's relations with India have remained frosty since it adopted its first republican constitution in September, triggering deadly protests by minority Madhesis in the south and leading to a border blockade the caused acute fuel shortages.

Officials said Nidhi would extend an invitation to President Pranab Mukherjee of India to visit Nepal before Xi is due to come. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited twice in 2014 but no Indian president has come since 1997.

"Prachanda wants to balance ties with neighbors at the same time show to India that Nepal has not slipped out of its hands," said Guna Raj Luitel, editor of the Nagarik daily.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine)



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