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Indian government offers ceasefire to Maoists

[In this article, the Telegraph (UK) discloses a new governmental ceasefire offer, while repeating the police claim that Maoists were behind the attack on an express sleeper train--a claim that the CPI(Maoist) and PCAPA have denied]

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi

Published: 10:41PM BST 02 Jun 2010

Its offer, made in a letter from home secretary P Chidambaram, emerged just days after a Maoist attack on an express sleeper train from Calcutta to Mumbai left more than 140 passengers dead. Almost all were civilians.

The Indian government has failed to contain rising violence and Maoist influence has spread to one third of India's 600-plus districts. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has described the insurgency as India's greatest security challenge.

The Maoists, known as 'Naxalites' in India after Naxalbari, West Bengal where their uprising began in 1967, are now a powerful force in Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand states. Their rebellion is for land reform and to protect tribals and poor farmers forced from their land to make way for mining and other developments.

The home minister has been under increasing pressure to stop the violence since April when 76 paramilitary police deployed to flush the Maoists from their jungle bases in Chattisgarh were killed in an ambush at Dantewada.

His letter was sent following a series of meetings between an emissary and a campaigner close to the Maoists, G N Saibaba, who last night told The Daily Telegraph the offer was "encouraging." He said for the first time the government was proposing that both sides cease hostilities and that he welcomed it.

"The home minister wants a date from the Maoists on which the ceasefire will come into operation," he said, but warned that government threats to send in the Indian Army and Air Force could sabotage the prospect of talks.

"It's ridiculous, it won't make a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue or ceasefire. Certain steps must be taken by the government to stop its operation against the Maoists and tribal campaigners."