Exactly a week after abduction of the Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon, two interlocutors named by the Maoists, reached the rebel hideout, deep inside the Bastar forests on Saturday afternoon.
The mediators, Haragopal and retired IAS officer B.D. Sharma, reached Chintalnar in a helicopter arranged by the Chhattisgarh government and were taken into the jungles on motorcycles by two journalists who volunteered for the job.
“Armed Maoist rebels made contact with the visitors deep inside the jungle and they took away the mediators,” N. Baijender Kumar, Principal Secretary to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh told The Hindu over phone. The official did not expect Prof. Haragopal and Mr. Sharma to return immediately. “It could take at least a day for them to return. We do not know how the Maoists would respond to the mediators,” Mr. Kumar said.
Armed Maoist rebels shot dead two gunmen of Mr. Alex Paul Menon on April 21 and abducted him. Subsequently they demanded the release of eight Naxalites lodged in different jails of Chhattisgarh in exchange for him. Later, they demanded the release of another 15 Maoist cadres.
The government had so far not conceded any demand, but nominated Nirmala Buch, a retired Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh and S.K. Mishra, retired Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh to discuss the issue with the two mediators selected by the Maoists. There were secret parleys between the government and Maoist interlocutors.
“We do not know what offer was made by those representing the government. We are waiting for a response from the Maoists,” Ramniwas, Additional DG, Chhattisgarh said over phone.
The government sources appeared to be confident that no harm would be done to the abducted Collector in view of the spate of appeals being made by civil society and intelligentsia as well as the safe release of two Italians and a BJD legislator in neighbouring Odisha by the Maoists last month.
Menon was alerted
Intelligence sources monitoring the Sukma hostage crisis disclosed that the rebels planned to abduct Mr. Menon at Konta in the first week of April.
The Collector had cancelled his proposed visit to Konta frustrating the Maoist plans.
The intelligence agencies had picked up this information from the “chatter” and had even alerted the Collector about he being the target.
Strangely, the Collector ignored the ‘written alert,' sources said.
Accused in 81 cases
Among the important leaders whose release was sought are Markam Gopanna, a member of the Dandakarnya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), an undertrial facing eight cases.
Nirmalakka, another Naxal leader is facing charges in as many as 81 cases, while Devipal Chandrasekhar Reddy is facing trial in 21 cases.
Other leaders like Shanti Priya Reddy, Korasa Sunny, Markam Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen are serving terms ranging from 10 years to 5 years after their conviction.