Patna: Three abducted policemen walked free Monday after being released by Maoists in Bihar, ending eight days of a hostage drama that saw one of their colleagues killed. As their families rejoiced after days of agony, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar insisted there had been no deal with the rebels.
Policemen Abhay Kumar Yadav, Rupesh Kumar Sinha and Ehsan Khan were freed around 6 am. in Lakho Chak area of Lakhisarai district, about 150 km from here, and were said to be "safe and healthy".
In Patna, Nitish Kumar said a joint appeal by political parties as well as public pressure had helped secure their release and they had been sent home.
"There was no deal. The government was firm on unconditional talks. We did everything possible. I feel that our appeal after the all-party meeting (Saturday) helped end the crisis," Nitish Kumar told reporters here.
"The three released policemen have been sent to their homes," he said.
Bihar police chief Neelmani said: "The three policemen have been freed by the Maoists. They are safe and healthy."
Hundreds of people gathered outside the police station in Lakhisarai town to have a glimpse of the three.
Four policemen were kidnapped by Maoists after a six-hour gunfight in Lakhisarai Aug 29. While Ehsan Khan hails from Jharkhand, Rupesh Kumar Sinha and Abhay Yadav, belong to Bihar. The fourth abducted cop, Lucas Tete, was killed by the rebels Sep 3.
Nitish Kumar said he regretted the killing of Tete, who too belonged to Jharkhand.
The chief minister, however, said he could not guarantee that such incidents would not occur again. "Nobody can guarantee that such incidents will not be repeated."
It was festival time for the families of the policemen as their long agonising wait ended.
"I am very happy. I can`t express my joy when my husband told me over telephone that he has been released and was safe," Rajni Devi, wife of Abhay Kumar Yadav, said over telephone from their village Mohanpur in Begusarai district.
She said she was eagerly waiting for her husband to reach home.
Yadav`s 70-year-old mother Naina Devi said: "It is like rebirth for my son. We are celebrating the day by playing Holi and bursting firecrackers."
Other villagers were also in a festive mood unlike two days ago when hundreds of them blocked a highway to protest the government`s failure to rescue Yadav.
Yadav had been mistakenly identified by the Maoists as the policeman they killed, causing agony to the family. The victim later turned out to be Tete.
And on Sunday morning, there was intense speculation that the three policemen had been freed. But there was no confirmation.
On Monday, Manju Sinha, mother of freed policeman Rupesh Kumar, said: "We are celebrating. It is like Diwali for us."
The family of policeman Khan were preparing for Eid, which is due Saturday. Last week, Khan`s family in Mandar block of Ranchi stopped Eid preparations as he was in Maoist captivity.
His father Mohiuddin Khan Monday said: "We will celebrate Eid Monday, ahead of the real Eid, as my son is reaching home. We are preparing for it already. We have offered prayers to thank Allah for his safe release."
The Khan family distributed sweets as hundreds gathered at their home.
However, in another Jharkhand home, there was only gloom. Tete was the only policeman to be killed among the four seized by Maoists. His bullet-riddled body was found near a forest in Lakhisarai district.
The policemen were abducted after the Aug 29 gunbattle that also left seven policemen dead and 10 injured. The Maoists claimed the gunfight was in retaliation for the killing of their leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and a journalist on the night of July 1-2 in Andhra Pradesh.