The rebel group had seized the properties in an attempt to distribute assets equally among the people. But they were rarely used, even though the original owners were ejected from the villages.

 

The group's spokesman, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, said in a statement late on Tuesday: "The process of returning the homes and properties unjustifiably captured has already started."

 

   

"The process of returning the homes and properties unjustifiably captured has already started"

A spokesman for the Maoist rebel group 

Mahara also urged the new multi-party cabinet, formed after King Gyanendra gave in to street protests and restored parliament, to free Maoist leaders and activists held in jails in Nepal and neighbouring India.

 

Peace talks

 

He said this would help to create a conducive atmosphere for peace talks with the new government.

 

Both sides have committed themselves to the talks but no date has been fixed.

 

The government has already matched a ceasefire by the Maoists.

 

The two sides are preparing for elections to an assembly that would write a new constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy in the Himalayan kingdom.

 

Maoist rebels have been fighting for one-party communist rule in the country since 1996. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the revolt.