Mediators to hold talks with government over hostage

Bhubaneswar, february 19 (Agencies): As Orissa on Saturday intensified efforts for the release of a district collector and a junior engineer abducted by Maoists three days ago, a mediator asked the state government to release a jailed Maoist to speed up dialogue with the abductors, an official said. R Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkangiri, was abducted along with junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi by Maoists on Wednesday evening. The state government on Friday requested two human rights activists and academics RS Rao and Hargopal to mediate with the Maoists for safe release of the hostages.
Both Rao and Hargopal are expected to reach Bhubaneswar on Saturday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said today in a statement in the Assembly. Hargopal said he has asked the government to release Maoist leader Ghanti Prasadam who has been in judicial custody in the state since November last year. Prasadam was arrested by Orissa police from Visakhapatnam area of Andhra Pradesh. He said that since both the mediators don’t know Oriya and about the situation in the state, the release of Prasadam would help them negotiate with the abductors. “I appeal to the government of Orissa to release Ghanti Prasadam,” Hargopal said in an interview from Delhi to a local television channel. He also said the case in which Prasadam was booked in the state is not a very serious one. “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 RS Rao will try to intervene in the situation. Prasadam can speak on behalf of the party (CPI-Maoist). Perhaps we can find some solution,” he said. A senior home department official said the government is examining the request and will take appropriate action soon. Maoists have set several conditions for the release of the collector and the junior engineer including a halt to the anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt, the release of all political prisoners, the scrapping of accords with MNCs and compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody.
The rebels had initially given a 48-hour deadline that lapsed Friday evening. 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 informed a section of the media that the deadline has been extended by another 48 hours. The announcement by the rebels came a few hours after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to the rebels to extend their deadline to meet their demands for releasing the hostages.
Kidnapped collector, engineer safe: Government
Bhubaneswar, February 19 (PTI): Orissa government today said the abducted Malkangiri District Collector R. V. Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi were safe and in good health.  “As per the information available with us, the two abducted persons are safe and in good health” in the captivity of the Maoists, Chief Secretary B. K. Patnaik told reporters after a high-level meeting attended by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Home Secretary U. N. Behera and others.
He said the process for negotiations started yesterday would take off after the arrival here of the two mediators – Prof. Hargopal and Prof. Someswar Rao. “We are waiting for the two to reach here,” he said. The two mediators from Andhra Pradesh were handpicked by the Maoists to negotiate with them on their demands for the release of Mr. Krishna and Mr. Majhi. On the deadline set by the Maoists for fulfilment of their demands for release of the two, the chief secretary said though initially a time frame had been fixed, “Now we assume that there is no time limit.”