Guwahati, January 16:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today that he was open to peace talks with separatist rebels in India’s remote northeast, despite a series of killings carried out by the insurgents earlier in the month.

Singh, who visited the troubled northeastern state of Assam today, said however, that the rebels must first lay down their weapons.

“All problems can be sorted out through dialogue,” Singh told reporters in the town of Dibrugarh, one of the worst hit areas some 500 km east of Guwahati, the capital of Assam.

“Any group that wants to shun violence and join the mainstream, our doors are open,” Singh said, but warned that his willingness to enter talks should not be seen as a sign of weakness.

“We will ensure the safety of the people using all the resources at our command,” he said.

Authorities have blamed rebels belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), for the January 5-8 shootings that killed 61 Hindi-speaking migrants. ULFA has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The attacks were Assam’s worst violence in years and came after Indian authorities called off peace talks with the ULFA and a six-week temporary truce in September, and resumed military offensives against the rebels.

At least 10,000 people in Assam, most of them civilians, have died over the last three decades in fighting between government forces and separatists.

The militants say the central government in New Delhi uses the northeast’s rich natural resources.