Odisha govt talks to abducted MLA

Odisha govt talks to abducted MLA

For the first time since his abduction by the Maoists 24 days ago, the Odisha government on Tuesday established direct contact with ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka.

Chief  Secretary Bijoy Patnaik and Collector of Koraput, the abducted MLA’s home district, spoke to Hikaka over telephone. The young tribal MLA, still in naxals’ captivity, was taken hostage by the left wing extremists on March 24 night.

“The MLA is in good health,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement. The Chief Minister said, two jailed Maoists and their associates had already been granted bail by the courts on Tuesday. “Efforts are on by the state government to facilitate the release of other Maoists and their associates,” he added.

The Maoists were demanding release of 29 of their colleagues and supporters from the prisons in exchange for Hikaka’s freedom. The government has agreed to set free 25 persons - eight members of CPI(Maoists) and 17 belonging to Chasi Mulia Advasi Sangha (CMAS), a front organisation of the naxals.

So far, the state government wanted the 25 jailed Maoists and their supporters to seek bail from the courts, while the MLA’s captors insisted that the government withdraw the cases against them and pave the way for their release.

Now, slightly softening its stand, the state government on Tuesday evening said that it would seriously consider accepting the Maoists’ demand to withdraw cases if the abducted MLA was released unhurt by Wednesday 5 pm, the deadline set by the naxals.

“The government would consider withdrawing select cases,” P K Jena, Principal Secretary to the Panchayati Raj department, told reporters here.

Jena was reacting to the latest audio tape released by Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, the Maoists’ faction which kidnapped Hikaka. On the tape circulated to the media on Tuesday, the group had said that the MLA would be released by Wednesday evening if the state government gave a specific assurance that their demands would be met.

Jena was one of the three senior bureaucrats who negotiated with the Maoists for the release of two kidnapped Italians earlier. The same team is now handling the MLA’s captors.

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