Friday's talks in Kathmandu between Prachanda, the rebel leader, and Girija Prasad Koirala, who heads a multi-party, interim administration, was the first known high-level meeting between the rebels and the government since the revolt began 10 years ago.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, rebel spokesman, said: "The main agenda for the meeting is to discuss early elections for the constituent assembly and solve the political hurdles for this."

Prachanda, whose assumed name means awesome, has led a war against the monarchy in Nepal in which more than 13,000 people have been killed.

Back on track

Speaking to Reuters in western Nepal on Thursday, he said peace talks with the government which started in May were back after initial troubles.

But differences remained over a Maoist demand for the dissolution of the reinstated parliament before elections for a special assembly to draft a new constitution that would decide the future of  the monarchy, he said.

On Friday, Prachanda flew into Kathmandu with Baburam Bhattarai, his second in command, and home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to meet Koirala at his house.

Soldiers were on guard while dozens of Maoist guerrillas in plainclothes, and apparently unarmed, prevented media cameramen from taking pictures.

The government and the rebels are observing a ceasefire for more than a month after weeks of street protests in April forced King Gyanendra to end his absolute rule and hand power back to political parties.