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Maoist Rebels Halt Peace Talks in Southern India

  • Anjana Pasricha

In the southern India state of Andhra Pradesh, Maoist rebels have called off peace talks with the government. The rebel announcement has ended hopes of ending one of the country's long-running conflicts.

When Maoist rebels emerged from remote jungle hideouts last year to join their first negotiations with the Andhra Pradesh state government, there was widespread optimism that a bloody rebellion by the Maoist Communist Center could be resolved peacefully.

But after a seven-month truce, the rebels have announced they are breaking off peace talks with the government. They accuse authorities of failing to honor a cease-fire, and say police have killed members of their group.

The rebel statement came late Monday following a week of violence in Andhra Pradesh that killed 15 people, including 11 rebels and a policeman. It was issued hours after authorities said they were prepared to hold a new round of negotiations.

The state government says it hopes the rebels will reconsider their stand. The talks were started by a left-leaning Congress Party government that pushed for peace after taking power in the state last year.

Political observers say a major sticking point was a government demand that the rebels stop moving around with weapons.

A political analyst with the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, Subhash Kashyap, says the rebel decision to call off talks is not unexpected, as neither side had made headway in recent months. But he says the government is apparently making efforts to salvage the talks, while ensuring that law and order is maintained.

"What one has to do is try at both ends," he said. "One effort should be to bring them [rebels] round to the mainstream, to the constitutional path and the other attempt has to be to make them feel they cannot get away with it."

Police have been warning that the rebels were using the cease-fire to reorganize their troops and regroup.

The rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for the creation of a communist state in areas of Andhra Pradesh and neighboring states. This is one of India's poorest and most underdeveloped regions.

The rebels say they are fighting for social justice for the region's indigenous tribes and landless farmers. Their key demand is for distribution of land to the rural poor. Nearly 6,000

people have been killed in the struggle, which the rebels wage from remote impoverished rural districts.

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