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India Maoists can 'hold talks'

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
There has been a surge in Maoist violence in recent months

A Maoist leader in India said the rebels are willing to talk to the government if it puts off a planned offensive against them.

Koteswar Rao said rebels would talk "if there was a ceasefire" on both sides.

His comments came as paramilitary troops were deployed in areas hit by rebel violence in West Bengal state.

The rebels are fighting for communist rule in many Indian states. More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' 20-year fight.

Last month, India's Home Minister P Chidambaram urged the rebels to "abjure violence" before the government could initiate talks with them.

Maoist leader Koteswar Rao - alias Kishenji - said Mr Chidambaran's proposal was "ridiculous".

"The government is killing innocent people in the name of tackling Maoists and they are asking us to abjure violence, which is ridiculous," he said.

"The process of talks can only begun if there is a ceasefire on both sides", he said.

'Sympathetic'

Mr Rao asked the government to withdraw paramilitary forces from Maoist-controlled areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

"They will have to look into the problems of the tribals in a sympathetic way," Mr Rao told reporters.

In 2005, peace talks between the Andhra Pradesh state government and the rebels collapsed with the Maoists saying elite police units were detaining their members and killing them in staged or faked shootouts.

Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told chief ministers from 29 Indian states to end exploitation of tribal people.

Mr Singh said there had been a "systematic failure" to give tribal people a stake in India's modern economy.

He said this was fomenting discontent, making them vulnerable to Maoists.

Tribal people often face discrimination from government and local officials in India.

There has been a surge in Maoist violence in India in recent months - the rebels have kidnapped and killed policemen, help up an express train, attacked police stations, and blown up railway lines and communication links in affected states.

The Maoist insurgency started in 1967 and has spread to cover a third of India's districts, forming a so-called "red corridor" in mainly central areas.

The rebels have a presence in more than 223 of India's 600-odd districts across 20 states, according to the government.

There have been more than 1,400 cases related to violence by Maoists between January and August, according to official records. Nearly 600 civilians have died over that period.

The insurgents wield most influence in areas which are mostly poor and dominated by tribes people.

They are also areas widely seen as being rich in mineral wealth which the Maoists say is being handed over to corporate firms while the poor remain deprived.



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