Raipur, April 27 (IANS) Interlocutors for the Maoists and the mediators appointed by Chhattisgarh government held talks for over five hours Friday to find a way for safe release of Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon, even as the rebels increased their demands, now seeking release of 17 of their jailed colleagues as against the original eight.
The rebels also Friday sought to justify the collector's abduction, saying he was part of the same system that harassed innocent persons such as teacher Soni Sori.
Reports say that now both Maoist interlocutors, Hyderabad-based Professor G. Hargopal and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer B.D. Sharma -- who had served as district collector of Bastar as well, will head towards rebel-commanded Tarmetla area in Sukma district, where Maoists had massacred 76 security personnel in April 2010, the biggest ever attack carried out by the rebels till date.
Top official sources said the Chhattisgarh government would arrange special aircraft to carry Hargopal and Sharma to Tarmetla where they would probably brief Maoists about the two-day discussion -- Thursday and Friday -- they had with the Chhattisgarh government representatives -- Nirmala Buch, a former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary, and S.K. Mishra, a former state chief secretary.
The source added that government mediators have made the state government's stand clear on the rebels' two demands -- release of 17 jailed Maoists and halt of anti-Maoist offensive 'Operation Green Hunt'.
"Now all depends on Maoists how they respond to our stand on their two demands. The safe release of abducted district collector Alex Paul Menon is our top priority now," Chief Minister Raman Singh told media persons here.
Meanwhile, Maoists, who had on April 22 -- a day after the collector's kidnapping -- sent an anonymous taped message to media outlets in the state demanding release of eight of their key jailed leaders -- Marakam Gopannam, Nirmal Akka, Devpal Chandra Shekher Reddy, Shanti Priya Reddy, Meena Chowdhary, Korasa Sunny, Markan Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen, Friday morning said they now want 17 jailed rebels to be released.
The Maoists also asked the state government to make its stand clear on their demands if it wants safe release of the young IAS officer.
In an e-mail sent to some media outlets by Maoist commander Ganesh Uike, who is a terror in certain forested parts in state's troubled Bastar region, justified Menon's abduction and said the district collector was part of the system that has harassed several innocent persons included Soni Sori.
Sori, a 35-year-old government school teacher, is in jail since October last year after police arrested her on charges of acting as Maoist conduit.
Meanwhile, official sources said that the 17 Maoists whom the leftist insurgents have sought release in exchange of abducted district collector, are presently put in jails at Raipur, Jagdalpur and Dantewada towns.
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