Seven days into the Bihar hostage crisis, Naxals have agreed to release the three policemen they are holding captive in the Lakhisarai forests, even as they spurned the Nitish Kumar government's offer of face-to-face talks with them.
According to reports, Avinash, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the Naxals, told local news channels on Saturday that they planned to release sub-inspectors Rupesh Kumar and Abhay Yadav, and Bihar Military Police havildar Ehsan Khan by Sunday morning.
While alleging that the government was not taking the rebels seriously, Avinash said the Naxals, after holding a meeting at night, were now charting a course to release the hostages.
But the police attribute the Naxals' reversal of stand to the arrest earlier in the day of two Naxalites — Pintooda, an area commander, and Bahadur Yadav — both of whom had participated in the abduction of the four policemen on August 29. One of the hostages was killed on Thursday night.
Also, the police are treading cautiously as the veracity of Avinash's claims has often proved suspect during the crisis.
“We have just received this information via the media that the rebels were planning to release the captives and hand them over to their relatives … but then again the relatives have to be present there. So, let us wait and see,” Additional Director-General Police (Headquarters) P.K. Thakur told The Hindu.
In the evening, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, at an all-party meeting here, said the government “was ready to conduct talks with the rebels, regardless of any mediator chosen by them.” In all, representatives from eight parties were present at the meeting. Mr. Kumar said he “welcomed any mediator — independent or chosen by the Naxals — to come forward and conduct talks with the rebels.”
The Chief Minister guaranteed the safety of the mediator in the event of his being a Naxal, stating the person need not have any fear from the police or the law during the talks.
He, however, discouraged the Naxals from communicating through the media, stating the veracity of the claims made by Avinash had often proved too contradictory to be given serious thought.
On the arrests of the two Naxals from the Gurmaha jungle in Jamui district, Mr. Thakur said both men, who had been under surveillance, provided the police vital information on the hostages.
“This sudden offer for the release of the hostages proves that the Naxals are beginning to feel the pinch ... especially now that we know a lot of details after the arrest of these two men,” Mr. Thakur said.
Earlier, in telephonic statements to a section of the local media, Avinash insisted that the government give the Naxals “definite assurances of security,” while saying they “would decide on the fate of the hostages after a meeting to be held at 9 p.m. on Saturday.”
Avinash further committed himself to the rebels providing an audio CD containing the voices of the three hostages as proof of their well-being, while stating his earlier proclamation on the killing of sub-inspector Abhay Yadav was made to evoke fear in the minds of those handling the crisis. However, the rebels have not yet played or provided any such CD.
Meanwhile, police operations are on and the combing area has been further stretched to include Banka and Kaimur districts and the hilly areas of the Belhar range.
Sources said the Centre had dispatched more than 400 additional security personnel and two choppers to Lakhisarai to assist in the anti-Naxal operations along the Bihar-Jharkhand border.