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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 16:21 GMT
Nepal Maoists lock their weapons
Maoist rebel leader Prachanda, left, and his deputy Baburam Bhattarai arrive at parliament
The rebels are joining mainstream politics for the first time
Nepal's Maoist rebels have begun locking up their weapons in designated camps around the country under a United Nations sponsored agreement.

It is one of the key steps in a peace process which began last year after a decade of civil war.

Nepal's army is also expected to lock up a similar quantity of weapons when the rebels' arms are confined.

The move comes after Maoists joined other parties in parliament in taking an oath under an interim constitution.

Meanwhile, Maoist leader Prachanda has said his party's so-called People's Government and People's Court will be formally dissolved on Thursday.

Prachanda told the BBC Nepali service he had personally never ordered individuals to be killed during the conflict.

But he promised to tour the country after the formation of an interim government to apologise for what he called "weaknesses" during the war.

Politically sensitive

The first weapon was confined at midday and the process is continuing at a Maoist camp in the south of the country.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says the safe storage of Maoists' weapons, as it is being called, is a politically sensitive matter and the rebel group has barred all media from the spot where it is happening.

Women Maoist fighters - file photo
The Maoists fought a 10-year guerrilla war
But the UN has told the BBC that Maoist soldiers have begun lining up at a camp near the famous Chitwan Wildlife Park to have their weapons registered by 12 UN experts.

The process is being supervised by UN monitors with a military background.

Each soldier is placing his or her weapon in one of two large containers.

Ammunition is also being stored, but any explosive devices are being placed in a separate safe location some distance away.

The number of weapons in the camp near Chitwan park and six other Maoist camps is not yet known.

All the Maoist troops, including many not bearing any arms, are also having brief personal details registered.

The containers carrying the arms will be locked later in the night. Maoist commanders will keep the keys, but the sites will be continuously guarded, at first by retired Gurkha servicemen.

Vital part

The former rebels have pledged to stay in the camps until elections due by June.

Once the Maoists arms are all stored, an equal number of national army weapons will be also locked away.

The whole process is a vital part of the peace agreement signed in November, which formally ended the 10-year-old insurgency which cost some 13,000 lives.

The Maoists took their seats in an interim parliament on Monday.

The United Nations has played a critical part in brokering the peace deal.

Nine months ago the Maoists were still an outlawed group but they will now have a share of power in the Himalayan kingdom.

Under the interim constitution, they have about a quarter of parliament's 330 seats for their members.

Nepalese soldier - file photo
Nepal's army will have to give up as many weapons as the Maoists
These include a large number of women and members of marginalised social groups.

Joining the new interim government, probably in February, will be the Maoists' next step.

The constituent assembly being elected in June will decide whether to scrap the monarchy or not.

King Gyanendra was forced to give up direct rule last year after mass protests.

He has since been stripped of all powers and does not have even a ceremonial role in the interim constitution.

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