Orissa hostage crisis: Talks inconclusive, to resume Monday (Intro Night Lead)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

BHUBANESWAR - Four days after a district collector and an engineer were abducted by the Maoists, the Orissa government Sunday began talks with the mediators chosen by the rebels. The talks, however, were inconclusive and will resume Monday, an official said.

People from various walks of life including government employees, students, and civil society members continued to build up pressure on Maoists for the kidnapped duo’s release by holding rallies and marches across the state.

The three negotiators — Dandapani Mohanty and human rights activists and academicians G. Haragopal and R. Someswar Rao — held a prolonged discussion here with state Home Secretary U.N. Behera and Panchayati Raj Secretary S.N. Tripathy.

“We had a detailed discussion today (Sunday). The discussion was held with the mediators in a very congenial manner,” Behera told reporters, reading from a statement.

“All the demands have been discussed. One round of discussion has been held. Further discussion will be held tomorrow (Monday),” he said.

“In the meanwhile, it has been agreed that there shall be no combing operation (anti-Maoist operation) in the state till the process of discussion is complete. At the same time, the Maoists shall not cause any untoward incident that will vitiate the peace process,” he said.

“There should not be any road blockade anywhere in the state causing inconvenience to the public. It has been assured by the mediators no harm will be caused to the collector and the junior engineer,” he said.

Although all the three mediators and both the senior officials were present at the press meet, they refused to take any questions. All of them held discussions throughout Sunday in the state guest house here amid tight security.

Behera and Tripathy began the talks with the mediators after two of them arrived in the state capital from Hyderabad in the morning, a senior state official told IANS.

“We are just mediators, there is no question of putting any pressure on the government,” Haragopal, a retired professor from Kakatiya University, told reporters hours before the talks.

The district collector of Malkangiri, R. Vineel Krishna, and junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi, were abducted by Maoists Wednesday evening. This is the first time an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official has been kidnapped in the state.

The kidnapping is the rebels’ most audacious act in the state till date.

The Maoists, in a letter to the government, listed their demands for the safe release of the hostages. These included halting of anti-Maoist operations by security forces, release of all political prisoners, the scrapping of accords with MNCs and compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody.

Bowing to some of their demands, the government has already halted anti-Maoist operation since Thursday. Sources said it has now begun the process of evaluating the charges against some of the rebels lodged in various jails. To facilitate the negotiation process, the government may ask its lawyers not to object bail petitions moved by their lawyers.

Although officials declined comment, sources said efforts are also on for the release of Maoist ideologue Ganti Prasadam after one of the mediators said this would speed up the dialogue process.

“I appeal to the government of Orissa to release Ganti Prasadam,” Haragopal said in an interview from Delhi to a local television channel Saturday. “Most of the cases against him are in Andhra Pradesh and the high court has already granted him bail,” he said.

“Once he is out, perhaps I and R.S. Rao will try to intervene in the situation. Prasadam can speak on behalf of the party (Communist Party of India-Maoist). Perhaps we can find some solution,” he said.

According to sources, the state police secured a prison transfer warrant from a court and already have brought Prasadam from a jail in Andhra Pradesh Saturday night.

“He is now in Koraput jail,” a senior state police officer told IANS. His lawyer might move a bail petition Monday, he said.

The rebels have also sought release of their colleagues languishing in different jails in the state. At least seven of them are prominent Maoists, the police officer added.

The state government Friday requested Haragopal and Rao to mediate after Maoists suggested their names. 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.

Filed under: Terrorism

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