Collector’s kidnap: Orissa govt contacts mediators chosen by Naxals

Bhubaneswar, February 18 (PTI): Asking Maoists to extend their two-day deadline, Orissa government on Friday said it has established contact with two mediators handpicked by the Naxals to negotiate the release of abducted Malkangiri District Collector R V Krishna and a junior engineer.  “They (Maoists) had given three names for negotiation. We have established contact with Prof Someswar Rao and Prof Hargopal (both from Andhra Pradesh). They are willing to mediate in the matter,” Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar after a marathon meeting at the Chief Minister’s office here.
The two mediators have accepted the State government’s request to issue an appeal for extension of two-day deadline given by Naxals who kidnapped Mr. Krishna, a 30-year-old IAS officer, and the junior engineer Mr. Pabitra Majhi on Wednesday, the Chief Secretary said. He said the State government has also contacted social activist Swami Agnivesh, who indicated that the Naxals were considering extending the time-frame of two days to meet their seven-point demands including halt to anti-Naxal joint operations, which has already been conceded, withdrawal of BSF, release of 700 tribal Naxals and scrapping of Polavaram water-sharing project with Andhra Pradesh. Swami Agnivesh said in New Delhi that he was willing to act as a negotiator if Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself talks to him and the State government is willing to release the jailed tribals.
The Chief Secretary said the government would consider the demands made by the Maoists. “Many demands may come up during discussions. We are open to discussions,” he said. Asked whether the State government would agree to the Maoist demand for release of seven persons, the Chief Secretary said, “Those will come up during the discussions with mediators.” The Chief Minister also appealed to the abductors to extend the deadline. “We have also appealed to them (Naxals) not to harm the collector and the junior engineer in their captivity,” Mr. Patnaik said. Meanwhile, social scientist Hargopal told a TV channel that the deadline set by the Maoists should be extended which is the first requirement for negotiations.
Similarly, the State government should adopt a positive approach and look into the demands of the Maoists, he said, adding it should not be difficult to release on bail some persons, including women, and it is in the government’s purview. The State government should also appoint a committee to look into the problem of tribals who have allegedly lost their land, Mr. Rao said and wanted the issue to be settled in accordance with the Tribal Land Act. However, with the deadline nearing, anxiety mounted about the fate of the two officials.  “As the State government had stopped combing operation and did not make any attempt to locate the abducted persons as a matter of policy, the police have no information on their possible whereabouts,” a senior police officer engaged in anti-Maoist operation said.
Soon after Mr. Patnaik’s appeal, Naxal ideologue Varavara Rao said the release of seven persons who have been jailed in “unreasonable and stray” cases would facilitate the safe return of the hostages. The rebels have cut off Malkangiri from the rest of Orissa by felling trees on vast stretches and digging up the main road connecting the district this morning. Besides obstructing the road in mountainous and forested Gobindpalli Ghati, the ultras put up a large number of posters with their demands. The State Assembly was this morning plunged into turmoil over the issue with opposition Congress and ruling BJD MLAs virtually coming to blows near the Speaker’s podium. The Congress accused the government of failing to take the House into confidence as it announced a halt to the combing operations.
Mr. Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, and Mr. Majhi were abducted by some 50 Maoists during a visit to remote Chitrakonda area for a camp for local development. A four-page letter purportedly written by Naxals was sent to some local media offices which suggested the names of the interlocutors. The abduction drew widespread condemnation as thousands of people took out processions in several parts of Orissa and appealed for the release of the two captives yesterday.