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Hostages to return by tomorrow: Mediator

Bhubaneswar: A day after Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao claimed that abducted Malkangiri district collector and a junior engineer had been released, the Naxal-appointed mediators on Wednesday said the process for their return is on and both would be back by tomorrow.

"The process has already started and Malkangiri Collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi will return by tomorrow," interlocutor Prof G Hargopal said, refusing to elaborate further.

Hargopal, who had last evening stated that the duo would be back within 48 hours, said Krishna and Majhi were safe.

Varavara Rao, who had claimed that the hostages were handed over to four sarpanches last night, expressed regret for having given the information as some modifications were made in the process of freeing the duo.

"I would like to tender my apologies for having stated yesterday that they had been released," the Naxal ideologue said.

"However, the process for their return is underway and both will be back shortly," he said.

There was no official confirmation on the release of the Malkangiri collector and junior engineer and senior officials were tight-lipped over the matter even as the demands made by the Maoists had been met.

30-year-old Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, and Majhi had been abducted by Maoists from Chitrakonda area of Malkangiri district on February 16.

Hopes of an early release of the kidnapped duo brightened last evening following three days of intense negotiations between Maoist-appointed mediators and the Orissa government representatives following which the remaining six of the 14 demands were conceded.

While the mediators told reporters after the talks that Krishna and Majhi would return within 48 hours, Home secretary U N Behera said the hostage crisis had been resolved.

Behera had said yesterday it was agreed that cases against five Maoists, including Ganti Prasadam and Padma, wife of top naxal Ramakrishna will be withdrawn after following due process of law.

The government had also agreed that there would be no coercive action by security forces as long as the Maoists do not indulge in unlawful activities, he said.

Twelve Maoists including hardcore rebel leader Sriramalu Srinivasalu were yesterday released on bail in one case by a fast track court which apparently expedited the release of the two officials. They will, however, be behind bars in connection with another case.

Regarding the demand by Maoists for release of Naxals like central committee member of CPI (Maoist) Asutosh Sen, Sriramulu Srinivasulu, Gananath Patra and Jiban Bose, the Home Secretary had said the matter would be examined on their merit.

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