Orissa hostage crisis: Talks to resume Monday (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 mediators chosen by the rebels. The talks were inconclusive and will resume Monday, an official said.

Three negotiators — Dandapani Mohanty and human rights activists and academicians G. Haragopal and R. Someswar Rao — held a prolonged discussion 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 in a congenial manner. Further discussion will be held tomorrow (Monday),” Behera said at a press conference

The Maoists have not caused any harm to the hostages, he added.

No combing operation against Maoists will be conducted in the state till the crisis is over, Behera said.

Behera and Tripathy began the talks in the state guest house 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 dialogue.

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, sources said the government has 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 confirming the development. His lawyer moved a bail petition in a local court Saturday which was rejected. His lawyer might again move the 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 officer said.

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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