Orissa govt hopeful of early breakthrough in hostage crisis

Orissa govt hopeful of early breakthrough in hostage crisis

In a related development, five hardcore Maoists, including Ganti Prasadam who has about 100 cases against him in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, moved the Orissa High Court for bail after a similar plea was rejected by a lower court.

The Naxals, who have sought their release as one of the conditions for the safe return of the two officials, called for a bandh to press their demand but it evoked little response.

As the negotiations with Maoist handpicked mediators for release of 30-year-old Malkangiri collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi stretched for another day, Home Secretary U N Behera said something concrete was likely to emerge soon.

The talks with the mediators -- Prof G Hargopal and Prof Someswar Rao -- have "progressed well," he said, adding the interlocutors raised several issues which were under the consideration of the state government.

"We are very hopeful that it will be sorted out," Behera said.
As Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, and Majhi spent the sixth day in captivity, the mediators were keen that certain jailed ultras like Ganti Prasadam join the negotiation process to resolve the hostage crisis.

The issue of release of jailed Maoists was discussed at length, sources said, adding it was possible that bail plea of the rebels would not be opposed by the government.
Conceding one of the seven demands of the Maoists, Orissa government has already made it clear that there will be no combing operation against them till the conclusion of talks.

Ganti Prasadam, who was arrested by Orissa Police and lodged in jail on sedition charges, told his lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik that he was interested in joining talks with government for the release of the abducted officials.

Hargopal said releasing leaders like Ganti Prasadam could play a significant role in negotiations with Maoists for the release of the hostages abducted from Chitrakonda area in Malkangiri district on February 16.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission appealed to the Naxalites to release the IAS officer and the junior engineer.

Expressing "deep concern" over their abduction, the NHRC also hoped that human rights defenders in the country will try to secure their release immediately.

Though whereabouts of the hostages were not known, the mediators have assured the Orissa government that the two would not be harmed and that rebels would refrain from violence as long as negotiations are underway.

The sources said the abducted officials were in some remote village in Chitrakonda area bordering Andhra Pradesh and the Maoists were frequently shifting the duo from one place to another.

"The mediators told us that both Malkangiri collector and junior engineer are safe and secure and that they will not be harmed when talks are held," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed the assembly.

The bail plea of Ganti Prasadam, Padma, wife of top naxal leader Ramakrishna, and three others was likely to be heard on February 23.

Prasadam was brought to Koraput from a jail in Andhra Pradesh yesterday and produced before a court there which rejected his bail plea and sent him to jail.

An order on the bail plea of another rebel Sriramulu Srinivasulu is likely to be pronounced by a fast track court in Makangiri tomorrow.

While Hargopal, Someswar Rao and Dandapani Mohanty, handpicked by Maoists, joined talks as mediators, the state government was represented by home secretary U N Behera and Panchayati Raj secretary S N Tripathy.

Maoists call for a bandh did not affect normal life in the state. However, government buses went off the roads in some areas of districts like Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada and Kandhamal, sources said.

Ever since the abduction, normal life has come to a standstill in Malkangiri district with people from all walks of life showing solidarity with Krishna and Majhi by closing shops and markets and taking out rallies for early release of the hostages.

Schools, colleges and government offices have remained closed as people have been taking out peace processions, holding prayer meetings and signature campaigns in protest.

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