Thursday, February 24, 2011

New demand surprises mediators

Bhubaneswar, February 24, 2011

In a new twist complicating the hostage crisis, Maoists on Wednesday night demanded that five key Naxals be freed immediately in return for the quick release of Malkangiri Collector R.V. Krishna, even as they set free abducted junior engineer Pabitra Majhi. The Orissa government had already conceded all their 14 demands on Tuesday.

The fresh demand took the Maoist-chosen mediators by surprise. One of the mediators, Professor G. Hargopal, said it "complicates" matters.

"We as mediators are surprised. We did not expect the additional demand," Prof. Hargopal said, adding, "We appeal to them [abductors] to free the Collector by 6 p.m. tomorrow [Thursday] evening."

While Naxal leader Ganti Prasadam was granted bail by the Orissa High Court, the abductors demanded that five others, including Sriramulu Srinivasulu and Padma, wife of a top rebel, be also freed from jail immediately, official sources said.

The abductors expressed their intention to free the Collector in public in the presence of the three mediators who held talks with the Orissa government, Swami Agnivesh and project director of District Rural Development Agency, Malkangiri, after the release of top Naxals named by them, sources said.

Expressing shock over the new demand, Ganti Prasadam and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao made a joint appeal to the rebels to release Mr. Krishna.

Prof. Hargopal said the Orissa government had agreed to release Srinivasulu, who had already got bail in a case, but he had to be sent to Andhra Pradesh as there were cases against him in that State and the issue was beyond the Orissa government\'s purview.

Regarding Ganti Prasadam, Padma and others, the Orissa government had agreed to withdraw cases against them, he said.

On Swami Agnivesh, the mediator said it would not be possible to involve him at this stage.

The condition laid by the abductors was conveyed to the Malkangiri district administration in a letter sent through Mr. Majhi, they said.

Junior engineer Pabitra Majhi (centre), who reached Malkangiri after he was released by the Maoists, addresses the media on Wednesday. Photo: Special Arrangement

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