Collector Abduction: Mediators Prepare for Talks

Raipur/New Delhi
Collector Abduction: Mediators Prepare for Talks
The first deadline set by Maoists for meeting their demands to set free abducted Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon passed today amid reports it has been extended till Friday to give talks between mediators of Chattisgarh government and Naxals a chance.

As the hostage crisis entered the fifth day, the 32-year-old IAS officer received the medicines sent for him by authorities and he is reported to be safe.

Chattisgarh police said it has a broad idea of the area where Menon has been held captive but it is unable to pinpoint the exact location since the abductors are always on the move.

"We have an idea about an area where he could be, but exactly it can't be pinpointed," SP of Sukma Abhishek said.

The two government mediators --former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh--Nirmala Buch and S K Mishra -- were holding meetings with state officials in Raipur this evening to work on a plan of action to ensure that Menon is freed by the ultras unharmed.

Chief Minister Raman Singh reiterated that since the dialogue process will be starting the Maoists should not insist on any deadline which ended today.

The Maoists demanded release of eight of their jailed leaders including two women, halt to the anti-Maoist offensive "Operation Green Hunt" and sending security forces in Bastar to barracks. They set an April 25 deadline.

A worried Asha, Menon's wife, is awaiting news on her husband from president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam, through whom medicines were rushed to the officer yesterday in view of his "critical" health condition. Menon is an asthmatic patient.

Former National SC/ST Commission chairperson B D Sharma, one of the two mediators from the Maoists' side, said he will reach Raipur and then Bastar region tomorrow to negotiate the release of Menon. Prof G Hargopal is the other mediator.

Sharma told reporters in Delhi that he had received a press release from Maoists last evening which puts forth a set of issues for which they want a resolution. They included the demands set by them for release of Menon.

He said the April 25 deadline set for accepting the demands of the rebels for the release of the IAS officer would be extended automatically. He wanted an immediate halt to all anti-Maoist operations.

After a high level meeting in Raipur, M Bijendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, tonight renewed the state government's appeal to immediately release Menon keeping the state of his health in mind.

Buch and Mishra, the two government mediators, were present at the meeting convened to discuss strategies to end the hostage crisis.

Kumar said negotiations between the mediators of the two sides over the Maoists' demands can be conducted even after the officer is set free.
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