Maoists to talk if Azad's killing is probed: Agnivesh

"I came to know from newspapers that the Maoists are ready for talks. Later I learnt that they want a judicial inquiry into the killing of their spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad," Agnivesh, the interlocutor between New Delhi and the Maoists, told IANS over phone.

A leading English daily Thursday quoted Maoist leader Akash as saying the rebels were ready for peace talks with New Delhi if Swami Agnivesh is the negotiator. Akash also said a seven-member negotiating committee would be set up soon to start the process.

Agnivesh said the Maoists wanted a judge of national eminence to head the probe which could be ordered by the central or state governments. "The judicial probe should be initiated quickly to prepare the ground for the talks," said Agnivesh.

"Once the inquiry begins, a date should be fixed for the guns to fall silent between the government and the Maoists," he said. According to the police, Azad was killed in an encounter in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh July 2. But the Maoists claimed that Azad and his associate Hemchandra Pandey were picked up from Nagpur July 1 and eliminated by the police in a fake encounter the next day.

Agnivesh, who was asked to play the role of a mediator by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, earlier sought a judicial probe into Azad's killing saying the dead man was in the forefront of initiating peace talks.

The development comes days after the Maoist-backed July 9 rally addressed by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, social activist Medha Patkar and Agnivesh and other intellectuals and cultural personalities at the rebel hotbed of Lalgarh in West Midnapore district.

At the rally held under the banner of an apolitical forum, Anti-Atrocities Democratic Forum, Banerjee appealed to the ultras to eschew violence and come for talks. "This development is the outcome of the Lalgahr rally. Mamata should be thanked for breaking the ice," said Agnivesh, who is in touch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office. "I am now waiting for an appointment with the prime minister. Once I get it, I will apprise him of the offer."

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