Armed Maoists receive interlocutors in Chhattisgarh jungle

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Raipur, April 28 (IANS) Armed Maoists received both of their interlocutors, bearing the Chhattisgarh government’s response to their demands for release of abducted Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon, in a jungle pocket in violence-hit Bastar region Saturday afternoon, raising hopes of the official’s safe and early release.

The interlocutors — Hyderabad-based Professor G. Hargopal and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer B.D. Sharma — reached Bastar by a chopper arranged by the state government.

The video footage aired by a local electronic channel showed that Hargopal and Sharma travelled several kilometres as pillion riders on motorcycles from Chintalnar to Tarmetla where the armed guerrillas shook hands with them on camera.

The two journalists of the news channel who carried the interlocutors as pillion riders were thoroughly checked by armed Maoists who vanished in jungles with Hargopal and Sharma to know what the Chhattisgarh government has decided about their two demands.

Before going off into the jungle with the Maoists at Tarmetla, the site where rebels massacred 76 government troops in April 2010, Hargopal told a news channel accompanying him that he came into the jungle with the well wishes of the tribals and the “sole purpose” of the collector’s release.

Top government officials said the Maoists’ interlocutors are likely to return from the rebels’ hideouts either late Saturday evening or by Sunday.

The move for Menon’s release was set in motion exactly a week after the Maoists abducted the 32-year-old, 2006 batch IAS officer from a forested location in Sukma district, some 500 km south from here, while he was interacting with tribals. The Maoists shot dead his two guards before taking him away at gunpoint.

Earlier Saturday morning, the Maoists’ interlocutors left for the Maoist-commanded area from capital Raipur after having at least three rounds of marathon meetings since Thursday with the Chhattisgarh government-appointed mediators — Nirmala Buch, a former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary, and S.K. Mishra, a former Chhattisgarh chief secretary.

“The Maoists’ interlocutors are carrying a clear-cut message from the Chhattisgarh government about the guerillas’ two demands — release of 17 jailed Maoists and halt to anti-Maoist offensive ‘Operation Green Hunt’ — and we are strongly hopeful of a very positive response from the Maoists in a day or two,” a senior official at the police headquarters here told IANS.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh had Saturday said that the “safe and early release of Menon is top priority”.

“I will do the best to get back the young IAS officer from Maoists’ clutches,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, Maoist militants had justified abduction of Menon and asked the state government to make its stand clear on their demands if it wants his safe release.

An e-mail sent to some media outlets by Maoist commander Ganesh Uike, who is a terror icon in certain forested parts in the troubled Bastar region, said the district collector was part of the system that had harassed several innocent persons, including Soni Sori, a lady teacher, who is in jail since October on charges of acting as a Maoist conduit.

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