Orissa hostages safe, talks likely to start Sunday: officials (Roundup)By IANS
Saturday, February 19, 2011
BHUBANESWAR/HYDERABAD - The Orissa district officer and junior engineer kidnapped by Maoists Wednesday are safe and in good health while formal negotiations with the rebels for their release are likely to begin Sunday after the mediators arrive, officials said Saturday.
State Chief Secretary B.K. Patnaik said: “As per the information available with us, the two abducted men are safe and in good health.”
R. Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkangiri, was abducted along with junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi by Maoists Wednesday evening. This is the first time an Indian Administrative Service official has been kidnapped in the state.
The state government, which requested academicians and human rights activists R.S. Rao and Hargopal to mediate with the rebels, said it was waiting for their arrival.
“Whatever negotiations or discussions will be held will be only after they arrive,” state Home Secretary U.N.Behera told IANS.
He denied that the government has decided to release some prisoners, as reported by some television channels. “No such decision has been taken so far,” Behera said.
Meanwhile, Hargopal, who arrived in Hyderabad from New Delhi Saturday, held talks with the other mediator, Someshwar Rao, and Maoist sympathiser and revolutionary writer Varavara Rao.
The trio met at Hyderabad Central University to discuss modalities for the mediation to seek the safe release of abducted Malkangiri district collector R.Vineel Krishna, who hails from Andhra Pradesh.
Since Someshwar Rao, a retired professor of Sambhalpur University, cannot travel to Bhubaneswar because of ill-health, Hargopal alone would be leaving for the Orissa capital.
Hargopal said he was also not in a position to travel to forests to hold talks with Maoists. He suggested that Orissa government release Maoist Ghanti Prasadam so that he can act as an emissary.
He said he would be in touch with Someshwar Rao and both would make all efforts to seek the release of the kidnapped district official.
Prasadam is currently lodged in a jail in Andhra Pradesh. He was arrested four months ago in Orissa and was later shifted to Andhra Pradesh.
Responding to Hargopal’s demand for release of Prasadam, a senior police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government can, on its own, withdraw cases only against those who are facing minor charges.
The government cannot help those who have severe charges. Such cases have to go through the courts and appropriate legal processes, he said.
After halting anti-Maoist operations since Thursday - one of the conditions the rebels had laid down for the release of the officials - the Orissa government is now considering their other demands and looking forward to see if the rebels come with any concrete proposal, a senior home department official told IANS.
The other conditions the rebels have set include the release of all political prisoners, the scrapping of accords with MNCs and compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody.
On the Maoists’ conditions for his release, Hargopal said he would be able to comment only after reaching Bhubaneswar and holding talks with the officials.
The rebels, who had initially set a two-day deadline to meet their demands, extended it by another 48 hours after it lapsed Friday evening. The extension was announced by a Maoist leader, identifying himself as Bhaskar, secretary of the Andhra-Orissa Border State Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, late Friday night.
Meanwhile, people continued their appeal Saturday by holding rallies in different parts of the state. The state assembly also appealed for the safe release of the hostages. State Steel and Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty moved the resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the assembly.
“The house expresses its deep concern on the issue of abduction. The house unanimously appeals through media for the release of both the persons. This house shares and sympathises with the agony and anxiety of their family members,” said the resolution.