Maoist reiterated they were ready for ceasefire talks with the Government after the arrest of one of their top leaders seemed to put the insurgents under pressure, officials said on Thursday.

Venkateswar Reddy, alias Telugu Deepak, a senior leader of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), was arrested Tuesday in the eastern city of Kolkata.

Deepak, 40, a military strategist for the Maoists, is a close associate of senior CPI-Maoist politburo member Kishenji, alias Koteswar Rao, who has been leading rebel operations in eastern India.

A fresh statement issued on behalf of Kishenji Wednesday night said the rebels and the government should hold talks on how to implement a ceasefire.

“We feel both sides, the ministry and the Maoists, should sit across the table and decide how and when to stop operations on both sides,” Kishenji’s aide Raju, who uses only one name, said while also demanding Deepak’s immediate release.

The latest statement by the Maoists is being interpreted as a significant change of stance.

In a truce offer made recently, Kishenji had said the Maoists were willing to implement a ceasefire from February 25 to March 7 if the government halted its ongoing anti-Maoist offensive named Operation Green Hunt.

But the latest statement did not mention any conditions for a ceasefire and instead said the rebels were willing to sit down for talks on when and how to implement the ceasefire.

The Home Ministry, however, insisted that if the rebels were serious about negotiations with the government, they should halt attacks for 72 hours.

Ministry officials said talks have failed to start because there have been 18 incidents of Maoist violence since Kishenji made the conditional offer. They included a school building being blown up and several attacks on civilians.

Maoist rebels are active in 20 of India’s 28 states, according to government data. More than 1,100 people were killed in violence linked to the insurgency in 2009.

They operate in some of India’s poorest areas, especially less-developed forested regions populated by tribal people. The rebels claimed they are fighting for the rights of forest dwellers, the poor and landless.

Meanwhile, Indian intellectuals and civil rights activists such as the writer Arundhati Roy have slammed the Green Hunt campaign.

They said central and eastern India was witnessing an unprecedented police and paramilitary deployment -- about 250,000 personnel “armed to the teeth” were positioned in these areas.

“This military buildup is a calculated assault on the poorest of the poor of the peoples in these regions -- the tribals,” journalist Sumit Chakravartty said.

“The real intent of this war is to facilitate the unbridled loot and plunder of the resource-rich forest wealth, minerals, water etc -- through the pacts signed with the domestic corporates and multinationals,” he said.

More In: National | News