Uncertainty prevails over fate of collector

(image) Bhubaneswar: Uncertainty prevailed over the fate of abducted Malkangiri district collector following fresh demands made by Maoists, which the Naxal-appointed mediators today said were not acceptable now.

"The new demands by abductors are not acceptable now… It complicates the matter," G Hargopal, one of the mediators chosen by the Maoists, said. The mediators have said collector R V Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, should be released from captivity by this evening.

The hostage crisis got complicated last night as Maoists demanded that five other key activists be freed immediately apart from top leader Ganti Prasadam for the quick release of Krishna abducted on February 16 after Orissa government conceded all the 14 demands.

"We as mediators are surprised. We did not expect additional demands will come up … We appeal to them (abductors) to free the collector by 6 PM on February 24," Hargopal said.

The abductors, who freed junior engineer Pabitra Majhi yesterday, also wanted involvement of Swami Agnivesh in resolving the crisis and expressed the intention to free the 30-year-old officer in the presence of the interlocutors.

While Maoist leader Ganti Prasadam was sent to Koraput amid tight security last night after being granted bail by Orissa High Court, the abductors demanded five others including Sriramulu Srinivasalu and Padma, wife of a top rebel, be also freed from jail immediately, official sources said.

The mediators, including Hargopal, told the abductors in a message that Srinivasalu had already been granted bail by a court in Malkangiri but he would have to be sent to Andhra Pradesh in connection with other cases in that state.

"Therefore it is not within the purview of Orissa government," Hargopal said, adding the state government has already agreed to withdraw cases against Padma and three others and the process may take some time.

Expressing surprise over the new demands, Ganti Prasadam, Hargopal and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao last night made a joint appeal to the ultras to release Krishna today.

The commitment with a time-frame for the release of hostages was made to the Orissa government by the mediators after holding consultations with Ganti Prasadam, Varavara Rao and Srinivasulu.

With regard to Agnivesh, Hargopal had said yesterday that it would not be possible to involve him at this stage.

The conditions laid by the abductors was conveyed to Malkangiri district administration in a letter sent through Majhi, according to official sources said. Malkangiri is about 650 km from here.

The appeal of the mediators had been aired through radio in English and Telugu yesterday as the Maoists listen to radio regularly.

Hargopal said the abductors had earlier made it clear that nobody should go to the release spot and the mediators were not in a position to go there when the collector is freed.

State Home Secretary U N Behera said the mediators had held discussions with the state government on the modalities to implement the 14 demands set by the Maoists and accepted by the government for the hostage release.

The interlocutors, he said, would remain here till the district collector is set free.

Krishna and Majhi had been abducted by Maoists from remote Chitrakonda area bordering Andhra Pardesh. The fresh demands were conveyed to Malkangiri district administration in a letter sent through Majhi, who was set free yesterday.

Sources in the government said on condition of anonymity that the mediators and state officials were examining the possibility of sending Ganti Prasadam to hold talks with the abductors for safe and early release of Krishna.

However, any such move would take a final shape when Prasadam, armed with bail from Cuttack High Court, is set free by the lower court in Koraput, they added.

Soon after his release yesterday, Majhi had said the Collector was fine and the abductors had promised to release him.

The junior engineer had also said they were not subjected to any mental or physical torture or harassment by the captors, who served them proper food.