KATHMANDU - Nepal completed the formation of a national unity government on Tuesday to agree a long-delayed new constitution, the deputy prime minister said. The cross-party executive replaces the Maoist-led cabinet which resigned earlier this month after striking a deal with opposition groups to end six years of political deadlock following the nation's decade-long civil war. Leaders from the Nepali Congress and Madhesi Morcha parties had already agreed to join the new cabinet but the third largest party, Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), rejected the offer, saying it was against the "spirit of consensus."

But the UML said Tuesday it would nominate ministers to join the new government after all in a move likely to speed up the protracted peace process.

"We have received the names of two leaders from UML," deputy prime minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha told reporters.

"They will be sworn in tomorrow,"

Maoist rebels fought the state in a conflict that ended in 2006 after leaving 16,000 dead before they turned to mainstream politics and swept to power in elections in 2008.

But the parliament has failed to write a peace-time constitution amid numerous disagreements over how the impoverished Himalayan nation should be governed, and a final deadline to complete the charter has been set for May 27.

Shrestha said a meeting of the four major parties had got over a huge stumbling block by agreeing on the number of provinces Nepal is to be divided into under a new federalised structure.

"We have zeroed in on the 11-province model. Their boundaries and the names will be finalised by a federal commission," he said, adding the parties also agreed on a directly elected president and a prime minister to be elected by parliament.

The thorny issue of creating a federal system has been a major bar to progress on the new constitution and a source of unrest.

Residents of the country's remote far west have endured two weeks of shutdowns by demonstrators demanding their region not be split while indigenous Tharus from the southern plains have also staged similar strikes.