Raipur: Chhattisgarh government-appointed mediators have announced that Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon, abducted by Maoists, would be freed within 48 hours.
“There is substantial progress in talks between the state government and Maoists as both the sides reached at an ‘agreement’ on certain points. The Sukma collector will be freed in next 48 hours”, government-appointed mediator Nirmala Buch said.
The breakthrough to ensure the safe return of came in the form of an agreement between the two mediators each of the Chattisgarh government and the Maoists at their fourth round of talks yesterday.
"I hope Alex Paul Menon will be released within 48 hours," Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters last night after the two-page agreement was initialled by the mediators in the presence of Home Secretary NK Aswal.
Under the agreement, the mediators nominated by Maoists have agreed as a "gesture of goodwill" to ensure the safe return of Menon within 48 hours.
The agreement did not, however, concede the demand by the Maoists for the release of their eight jailed associates in exchange for the freedom of the collector.
But, the statement said government has agreed to set up a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Nirmala Buch, one of the two Government mediators, to review the cases of all prisoners locked in Chattisgarh jails including the cases demanded by the Maoists.
The Committee, which will have Chief Secretary and state DGP as members, shall become operational "within an hour" of the release of Menon, according to the agreement.
The proposed three-member Committee will regularly review all cases of persons in jails in the state where investigation/prosecution is in progress.
Yesterday, in a message sent to the local media, the Maoists sought release of eight of their jailed associates by May 2.
The Left ultras also demanded that the government should revoke "false cases" filed against the innocent villagers.
There was no immediate word directly from the Maoists on the agreement which is expected to pave the way for ending the tense hostage crisis.
"Under the given circumstances, we as mediators feel that this was the agreement that could be worked out. We appeal to Maoist party, Southern Regional Committee, Dandakaranya to consider this proposal favourably and ensure safe return of the Collector Alex Paul Menon, whose spouse is in the family way," the two interlocutors from the Maoists side -- Professor G Hargopal and BD SharmaSharma and Hargopal said in their joint appeal to the captives.
Chief Minister Singh said negotiations can continue even after the Collector is released.
Hargopal and Sharma had met the ultras in Tadmetla forest two days back.
The Maoists-side mediators had briefed the sub-committee of Chhattisgarh Cabinet which is dealing with the hostage crisis.
The Maoists-side mediators then met the government-appointed interlocutors.
32-year-old Menon, a 2006-batch IAS officer, was abducted by Maoists on April 22 at Majhipara village where he was meeting villages for a government outreach programme.