Sukama collector to be released on Thursday

Raipur: Barring any last minute hitch, Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon, who has been held hostage by Maoists for 11 days, will be freed on Thursday. A late night statement by the Maoists said, "We are ready to hand over Menon on May 3 in front of people of Tadmetla."

The 32-year-old IAS officer, who was abducted on April 21, will be handed over to the two mediators of the Maoists. "Our mediators B D Sharma and G Hargopal had come to an agreement with the Chhattisgarh government for release of our prisoners from various jails of Chhattisgarh. We are thankful to our mediators who did their level best," the statement said.

The breakthrough to ensure the safe return of Menon came in the form of an agreement between the mediators of the two sides at their fourth round of talks on Monday. Under this, Government has agreed to set up a high- powered committee headed by Nirmala Buch, one of the two Government mediators, to review the cases of all prisoners languishing in Chattisgarh jails including the cases demanded by the Maoists.

The Maoists had earlier demanded release of eight of their jailed leaders and an immediate halt to operations by security forces against them for the release of Menon. N Baijendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Raman Singh, told PTI today that the agreement has paved way for Menon`s release. He said Sharma and Hargopal — met the Chief Minister this morning during which they were complimented for helping find a solution to end the hostage crisis.

Sharma later said the naxals have been apprised about the agreement, under which the mediators nominated by Maoists have agreed as a "gesture of goodwill" to ensure the safe return of Menon within 48 hours. This has now been extended by a day. Meanwhile, a worried Asha, who has been eagerly awaiting for the release of her kidnapped husband expressed happiness over the agreement and hoped that Menon will return soon to his family. Menon was taken captive from Majhipara village in Sukma district when he was holding a meeting as part of the government`s special Gram Suraj Abhiyan.