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November 27, 2001
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Nakkeeran chief in cahoots with Veerappan: STF

Papri Sri Raman in Madras

Nakkeeran editor R R Gopal, who has been negotiating the surrender of elusive bandit Veerappan, has been accused of plotting with him last year's abduction of Kannada actor Rajakumar.

The Special Task Force, which has been hunting for Veerappan in the forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states, has claimed that it has evidence of Gopal and Nakkeeran reporter P Sivasubramanium's involvement in the kidnap of Rajakumar, who was released after 108 days in captivity.

Gopal and Sivasubramanium met Veerappan several times in his hideout in the Sathyamangalam forest.

The STF's Karnataka wing last week arrested Sivasubramanium from Athur village in Tamil Nadu, provoking strong media criticism.

Senior Karnataka police officer Harishekaran said: "Criminal links between the two journalists and Veerappan have been established." He also alleged that several activists and leaders of two Tamil extremist groups -- the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force -- were collaborating with the Veerappan gang. The STF has picked up the groups' leaders like Andril, Selvan, Iniyen, Selayan, Muthukumar and Krishnamurthy, for questioning on several occasions.

TNLA leader Maran is said to be the brain behind the Rajakumar abduction.

These extremists have reportedly named Gopal and Sivasubramanium as accomplices.

According to a source in STF's Karnataka wing, "Gopal and Sivasubramanium had advised Veerappan to abduct important persons."

The STF also alleges that money had been paid to Veerappan to ensure Rajakumar's release. The STF says it has evidence that the transaction took place through a nationalised bank in Bangalore.

Critics say the STF had so far been unsuccessful in hunting Veerappan down because of the rift between its Tamil Nadu and Karnataka wings. But recent reports indicate that the differences may be going and a serious search for the bandit may have begun.

As a result of the media reaction to Sivasubramanium's arrest, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has asked the STF for an explanation.

Gopal has accused the STF's Karnataka wing of abducting his reporter. He has filed a petition in the Madras high court asking it to order the STF to produce the reporter in court. Earlier, a court had remanded Sivasubramanium in judicial custody till December 5.

Recently, another Tamil magazine, Netrikkan, released an audiotape in which Veerappan allegedly claimed that Gopal and Sivasubramanium had taken Rs 5 billion from him. Police are investigating the authenticity of the tape.

According to reports in the local press, the STF, after questioning Sivasubramanium, recovered gelatine sticks, electronic equipment, guns and bullets buried in the forest of Kongarakadu on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border.

The STF said Sivasubramanium "acted more as Veerappan's accomplice than a journalist". It claimed he was "aware of Veerappan's plans to abduct actor Rajkumar" and was the conduit between Tamil extremists and the brigand.

A police source also said, "Sivasubramanium was on a mission for Gopal when he was arrested. He had been deputed by Gopal to contact Veerappan to get a clean chit on the Netrikkan tape."

The STF has also said that Gopal had once saved Veerappan's life when he was attacked by one of the three other men kidnapped along with Rajakumar. The STF said Veerappan had been seriously injured in that attack, but Gopal made government negotiators bring in a doctor for his treatment by saying Rajakumar was sick.

The STF is now preparing to question Gopal in detail.

Indo-Asian News Service

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