Kidnapped collector, engineer safe: Orissa Govt

Orissa`s chief secretary said the process for negotiations would take off after the arrival of 2 mediators.

Updated: Feb 19, 2011, 15:35 PM IST

Bhubaneswar: Efforts to secure release of the abducted Malkangiri district collector and a junior engineer gained pace on Saturday with the Orissa government set to
hold discussions with the two mediators handpicked by the Naxals to negotiate their demands.

As District Collector RV Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi spent their fourth day in captivity, the Orissa government said the two were safe and in good health according to the information available with them.

After attending a high-level meeting attended by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Home Secretary UN Behera, Chief Secretary BK Patnaik told reporters that the process for negotiations started yesterday would take off after the arrival of the two mediators -Prof Hargopal and Prof Someswar Rao here.

"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 Krishna and Majhi.

"Prof Someswar Rao and Prof Hargopal (both from Andhra Pradesh) will reach here today...then we will start discussions on the demands made by the Maoists," the Chief Minister said in a statement in the state assembly.

The state assembly also unanimously adopted a resolution appealing for their safe release. The resolution was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Raghunath Mohanty after NCP legislature party leader Amar Satpathy made a proposal in this regard.

The House also shared the concern and agony of the family members of the two abducted officials.

Extending support to the government in the efforts for release of Vineel Krishna and Pabitra Mohan Majhi, BJP`s KV Singhdeo and Jay Narayan Mishra said all aspects should be considered carefully before taking any step. Both the kidnapped persons should be released unharmed, they said.

On the deadline set by the Maoists for fulfillment 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."

Following appeal by Orissa government and others, the 48-hour deadline for fulfillment of their demands was extended by Maoists, who had abducted the 30-year-old IAS officer of 2005 batch and Majhi on Wednesday evening, sources said.

"Now everything will depend on the manner the talks proceed," the sources said.

While some contacts were already being made with the Maoists, both Rao and Hargopal insisted that the deadline must remain extended to ensure smooth and meaningful negotiations to secure the release of the two hostages.

The mediators and social activist Swami Agnivesh, who has been contacted by the state government, have appealed to the Maoists not to cause any bodily harm to the hostages.

Besides halt to anti-Naxal joint combing operations, which has already been conceded, the seven-point demands of the Naxals included withdrawal of BSF, release of 700 jailed tribal Naxals and scrapping of Polavaram multi-purpose dam
project in Andhra Pradesh.

Though Maoists have sought release of some 700 jailed tribal ultras, their emphasis appeared to be on setting free a couple of "key persons," the sources said.

The state government, which was constantly reviewing the situation, would consider the demands made by the Maoists, a senior official said.

"Many demands may come up during discussions. We are open to discussions," Patnaik has said.

Hargopal, one of the mediators, has said that the state government should adopt a positive approach and look into the demands of the Maoists.

Meanwhile, the tribal-dominated Malkangiri district remained cut off from the rest of Orissa as the red rebels had snapped links with the area by triggering a landmine blast and felling huge trees on the main connecting road yesterday.

The ultras had also dug up the mountainous and forested Malkangiri-Jeypor road, that connects the Naxal-hit district with rest of Orissa at several places, police said.

Movement of essential commodities and other articles to Malkangiri was paralysed as the ultras brought traffic on the crucial state highway road to a grinding halt despite stoppage of anti-Naxal operations since Thursday.

The abduction of Krishna and Majhi from remote Chitrakonda area, a Maoist stronghold in Malkangiri district bordering Andhra Pradesh, has drawn widespread condemnation with people from all walks of life staging peace rallies in different parts of the state seeking their early and safe release.