"I am giving an open invitation to all young men and women who have taken to arms to come for talks with us so that we can usher in peace and prosperity in the north-east," Singh said on Sunday in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state.

"Our government is willing to talk to anybody who shuns the path of violence," he said at the end of his visit to Manipur, one of the seven states that make up India's troubled north-east.

About 30 rebel outfits operate in the region, seeking secession, greater autonomy or independence. They say New Delhi exploits the area for oil, tea and timber.

Positive overtures

Singh (R) has been touring India
trying to resolve local conflicts

Violence in the region has claimed nearly 50,000 lives since India's independence in 1947. The prime minister's visit, which was broadcast on regional television, was to continue later on Sunday in the main city of Assam state, Guwahati.

"We are very serious to work with the people of the north-east to solve their various problems like under-development and unemployment, besides promoting peace and accelerating development," the prime minister said.

Singh said his government had received positive overtures from the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), an influential separatist group fighting for an independent homeland in Assam, neighbouring Manipur.

And he said a special committee had been set up to review a controversial anti-terror law which gives sweeping powers to Indian troops fighting insurgents.

Demands

Residents of Manipur have been demanding the repeal of the law, more so since the death of a 32-year-old female activist in July, allegedly in military custody after being raped.

Singh said Myanmar, which borders many of India's north-eastern states, had also assured New Delhi it would crack down on separatists who had bases in its territory.

"Myanmar's Prime Minister General Than Shwe has assured his country's pledge not to allow his country to be used by insurgents for any attacks directed against India," Singh said referring to Than Shwe's visit to New Delhi last month.

"Our government is willing to talk to anybody who shuns the path
of violence"
 

Manmohan Singh,
Indian Prime Minister

Indian intelligence officials say at least five armed groups from India's north-east have training camps in northern Myanmar's thick jungles.

New Delhi says anti-Indian rebel groups use camps in Bangladesh and Bhutan, besides Myanmar, for hit-and-run attacks in the north-eastern states, known as the "seven sisters".

New process

Violence in India's north-east has
claimed about 50,000 lives so far

Singh said his visit to the region was intended at beginning a new process of hope and peace, but played down expectations of massive financial packages.

"I am not here to give money or announce packages but would definitely respond to demands for projects submitted to us by the state governments," Singh said.

During his Wednesday-Thursday trip to disputed Kashmir, Singh had offered $5.3 billion for development and announced the end of a ban on recruitment to government jobs.

Officials in Singh's office had said the prime minister was expected to announce economic development packages during his three-day trip, which ends on Monday with his flagging off of the inaugural South-east Asian car rally.