M A I N   N E W S

JE freed; Collector’s fate uncertain

Bhubaneswar, February 23
Abducted Junior Engineer (JE) Pabitra Majhi was freed today by the Maoists in Orissa after a seven-day ordeal. However, the release of Malkangiri District Collector RV Krishna remained clouded in uncertainty with the rebels setting a new condition.

The hostage crisis got complicated after the Maoists made a fresh demand tonight for the immediate release of five Naxals in return for the freedom of Krishna. Taken by surprise, the mediators have made an appeal that the 30-year-old IAS officer be set free by tomorrow evening.

Krishna was abducted along with Majhi on February 16 from Chitrakonda, about 150 km from Malkangiri.

While Naxal leader Ganti Prasadam was granted bail earlier in the day by the Orissa High Court, the abductors have now demanded that five others, including Padma, wife of a top rebel, be also freed from the jail, according to official sources. The condition laid by the abductors was conveyed to the Malkangiri district administration in a letter sent through Majhi, they said. Malkangiri is about 650 km from here. The Orissa Government had accepted all 14 demands set by the Maoists earlier.

The abductors also expressed their intention to release the collector in public in the presence of the three Maoist-chosen mediators and the project director of District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), Malkangiri, sources said.

Following the new demand, Ganti Prasadam, mediator G Hargopal and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao made a joint appeal to the rebels to release the Collector by tomorrow evening, Hargopal told reporters.

Stating that the new issue raised by the Naxals was beyond the purview of the Orissa Government, he said, "We are happy that the junior engineer has been released, but the additional condition will complicate the issue as yesterday we had made a commitment for the release of both hostages in 48 hours."

"We are surprised. We did not expect additional demand will come up," Hargopal said. "We appeal to them (abductors) to free the collector in 24 hours, that is tomorrow evening," he added.

"Majhi was taken by local villagers on a motorcycle to Chitrakonda after being released by the Maoists in a remote forest in Malkangiri," Chitrakonda Tehsildar D Gopal Krishna said over the phone. — PTI





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