Maoists offer peace talks in central Indian state

RAIPUR, India, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Maoist rebels in India's central state of Chhattisgarh offered peace talks on Saturday, the first time since negotiations between them and authorities in a southern state collapsed in 2004.

The offer comes at a time when the rebels are thought to be on the backfoot in Chhattisgarh, the state worst-hit by the insurgency, after a strong police crackdown. The state government has welcomed the offer.

The Maoists made the talks offer in a statement released to the media which said their move was in "public interest". It said the government would have to first create a conducive atmosphere by stopping the "suppression of tribals".

Maoists control vast tracts of rural land in east, central and parts of southern India. In 2004, talks between a section of the rebels and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh collapsed after each side accused the other of violating a ceasefire. (Reporting by Sujeet Kumar; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani)