West Bengal, India: Maoist-interlocutor ‘talks by August 31’ — Rebels accept govt invite

by MONALISA CHAUDHURI, The Telegraph

Calcutta, Aug. 26: The Maoists and the state-appointed interlocutors will hold their first peace talks by Wednesday, government sources said today.

Two representatives from each side will attend the meeting, the sources said. They said the committee of interlocutors had sent a letter to CPI (Maoist) state secretary Asim Mandal alias Akash on Tuesday on behalf of the home department, inviting the rebels to the talks to start the peace process in Jungle Mahal.

The letter mentioned that the talks would be “unconditional” and that the Maoist leaders attending the meeting would be given “safe passage”, the sources said. Maoist sources told The Telegraph that they had received the letter, adding the rebels had verbally conveyed their acceptance to the government.

Both sides are yet to arrive at a consensus on the venue of the talks but the government sources said it should be “mutually acceptable”. The government had initially said it would choose the venue but following opposition from the Maoists, decided to consider any place that was “safe and logistically appropriate”.

A Maoist leader said over the phone that the meeting could be held in a rebel hideout in Jungle Mahal.

Home department sources, however, said it was unlikely that the government would agree to this as the safety of the interlocutors “could not be compromised”.

The sources said Akash would be one of the CPI (Maoist) members to attend the dialogue while the other was yet to be decided. From the government’s side, interlocutors panel head Sujato Bhadra will be present at the talks. Although the government is yet to pick the other representative, the Maoists have suggested rights activist Chhoton Das.

The stage for the talks was set a month ago, when the interlocutors conveyed to the Maoists the government’s desire to hold a dialogue. Akash had expressed willingness to negotiate, but had insisted on an “official invite”.

The sources said the decision to send the letter was taken after Bhadra met Mamata Banerjee and conveyed to her the Maoists’ acceptance of the talks offer.

The six-member committee of interlocutors today again met the chief minister at Writers’ and informed her that the rebels were ready for talks. “The talks could take place as early as next week,” a home department official said.

After the meeting, Bhadra said the process of initiating a dialogue with the Maoists would continue despite the recent surge in violence in Jungle Mahal. The interlocutors requested “all parties concerned” to maintain a ceasefire.

“We condemn the recent incidents of violence and request those responsible not to resort to violence and jeopardise the (peace) process. As of today, the process is very much on. The discussions will be held soon,” Bhadra said.

In the recent past, a Trinamul worker and a CPM cadre were killed by suspected Maoists in West Midnapore. Bhadra condemned the incidents, saying such instances “vitiate the conducive atmosphere of mutual trust that has been created with much effort, and instead creates an atmosphere of distrust”.

At today’s meeting, Mamata told the interlocutors that the Maoists were “sabotaging” the government’s development projects in Jungle Mahal. Yesterday too, she had signalled that the Maoists should shun violence.

Bhadra said the chief minister “believes” that the dialogue process should continue “irrespective of hurdles that come in its way”.

 

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