Suspense and tension marked Sunday, the eighth day of the hostage crisis, as there was no word on the release of the three policemen held captive by Naxalites in Lakhisarai, despite the rebels' reported promise that they would free them by Sunday morning.

On Saturday night, after the arrest in Jamui of two of their comrades who had taken part in the abduction, the Naxalites agreed to release the captives, but spurned the Bihar government's offer of talks.

But the mystery surrounding the release of the hostages deepened on Sunday after one television channel said the rebels had extended the time of release till 4.00 p.m.

Since this announcement was made, there was no further statement from either the militants or the government.

Speaking to journalists earlier in the day, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said: “He had no … knowledge of the rebels releasing the three policemen.” The media would be duly informed “the moment any such news reaches the administration.”

After Saturday's all-party meeting convened to discuss the crisis, Mr. Kumar declared the government's willingness to conduct talks with the rebels, whoever be the mediator they chose. He also promised to guarantee the safety of a Naxal mediator.

In interviews to some sections of the media on Saturday night, Avinash, a self-proclaimed Naxal spokesperson, said the ultras planned to release sub-inspectors Rupesh Kumar and Abhay Yadav and Bihar Military Police havildar Ehsan Khan by Sunday morning in response to the appeals made by their relatives and prominent social activists, including Mahashweta Devi.

The local channels added to the expectations, flashing till noon reports on speculation that the captives were to be freed near the Banka-Belhar range or the Jamui-Banka border.

A footage broadcast by a channel even showed a Naxal, identifying himself as ‘Kishanji,' meeting the family members of Abhay Prasad Yadav and assuring them that he would be back home soon.

However, hopes receded, as there was no word from the police or the relatives that the rebels had freed the hostages.

“All I can say at the moment is that our only priority right now is to free our men, in whatever condition they may be,” ADG (Headquarters) P.K. Thakur told The Hindu, brushing aside questions whether the Naxals were using the media to hamper the police operations against them.

The police at Lakhisarai and in Patna did not divulge anything about their operations against the rebels.

Unconfirmed reports

Even as the operations continued, unconfirmed reports emerged later in the day that the Naxals had given some CDs to Central Reserve Police Force units in Munger and Jamui.

Some television channels even claimed that while one of the CDs turned out to be blank, the other contained footage of a body.

Paswan offers prayers

PTI adds

At an iftar party he hosted here, Lok Jan Shakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan has offered prayers for the well being of the three policemen and appealed to the militants to free them at the earliest.