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Karnataka, Tamil Nadu promise pardon for Veerappan if brigand releases hostages

The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have agreed to Veerappan's offer to surrender and promised the notorious brigand that he will not be killed.

A joint message from Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M Karunanidhi -- to be broadcast over All India Radio and published in newspapers immediately -- said "both of us have agreed to provide protection to his life and accept his surrender. Further action will be taken by the Tamil Nadu government in this regard."

Veerappan, who abducted nine Karnataka forest department personnel on Saturday, had sent two audio cassettes to Patel, setting terms for his surrender.

Chief Minister Patel told newsmen that Veerappan should release the hostages before his surrender. The Veerappan gang, which had been lying low for several months, kidnapped the forest department staff in a daring operation. The gang has killed more than a hundred people, including police personnel, in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Patel said he had discussed Veerappan's demand with Karunanidhi and agreed to abide by Tamil Nadu's decision. "No other condition or demand is acceptable to Karnataka. He should surrender and face the consequences," the chief minister added.

The Veerappan gang had abducted the forest officials who were on an anti-poaching raid. They had entered the forest from the Burude forest guest house in the B R hill ranges of the Chamarajnagar forests. Among the ten officials who were abducted, Veerappan released Basavaraj, a forest department driver, and sent two audio cassettes with him to the Chamarajnagar deputy conservator enlisting his demands.

The sandalwood smuggler has threatened to kill the officials if he was not granted a pardon. He has eluded police and forest officials in the two states for nearly a decade.

Karnataka had earlier been firm that the brigand would not be pardoned.

In his taped message, Patel said Veerappan had sought protection for his life. He said he had agreed to Veerappan's appeal, as his menace should not be allowed to continue.

The chief minister said he would refer the matter to the state cabinet. Home Minister Roshan Baig would be asked to go to Tamil Nadu to discuss the issue with Karunanidhi. "Whatever is acceptable to Tamil Nadu is acceptable to us," he said adding that Veerappan should first surrender to the Tamil Nadu authorities.

Saturday's kidnapping was the second such incident involving government officials. Earlier, the Veerappan gang had kidnapped TN Deputy Superintendent of Police Chidambaranathan and others in December 1994. However, they managed to escape.

The forest personnel -- a forest ranger, two forest guards, six watchers and the driver -- were kidnapped at gunpoint on Saturday close on the heels of Baig ruling out a conditional offer of surrender made by Veerappan.

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