Efforts to release collector gain momentum

Bhubaneswar: With Maoists extending the deadline for State government to meet their demands, efforts for release of Malkangiri District Collector R V Krishna and a junior engineer through negotiations gained pace today.

As Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi spent the fourth day in captivity, the two mediators handpicked by Maoists and contacted by Orissa Government are expected to arrive here shortly in order to speed up the process of negotiations, official sources said.

The state government has been in regular contact with the two Hyderabad-based interlocutors – Prof Someswar Rao and Prof Hargopal – and the process was gathering momentum, according to Home Secretary U N Behera.

Following appeal by Orissa government and others, the 48-hour deadline for fulfilment 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 included withdrawal of BSF, release of 700 jailed tribal Naxals and scrapping of Polavaram multi-purpose dam project in Andhra Pradesh.

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.

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," Chief Secretary B K Patnaik 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.