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Cough... cough... cough... to save your lives!

They coughed their way into the thick jungles as a signal to meet one of the most wanted outlaw in the country.

The three-member emissary team had to cough violently while trekking nearly one and a half km of forest terrain, as instructed by the brigand.

This was one of the several signals the team was asked to give during their journey into the Andhiyur forest range on the Tamil Nadu side, team leader R Gopal told the media in Madras.

Gopal, who was accompanied by two of his staff members, gave a graphic account of his four-day mission which began on Saturday night. After the team reached the foothills of Andhiyur range, two of Veerappan's men gave Gopal an audio cassette containing specific directions to reach the sandalwood smuggler.

After reaching a particular point, they were asked to cough loudly for about one and a half km, to signal the team's arrival.

''As it was a painful exercise, we took turns to cough,'' Gopal said amid laughter.

After trekking for about 30 km, the two gang members took them to a hut for a stopover. When a dog kept barking at the gang members, one of them strangled it to death saying it was not worth keeping the canine as it had failed to recognise the visitors.

''This is the kind of people Veerappan has,'' Gopal said.

As the editor eagerly waited to meet Veerappan, the two gang members made a bonfire. Suddenly, the poacher appeared with a gun slung on his shoulder.

Gopal learnt later that the bonfire signalled the team's arrival.

This was the Nakkeeran team's seventh meeting with Veerappan in 18 months.

Gopal said he had ensured that all the checkposts en route were removed and search operations by the Special Task Force personnel of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu called off.

When sources informed him about the presence of some Karnataka policemen in disguise, he had reported the same to the Tamil Nadu chief secretary and home secretary. Only after securing written commitments from the two state governments that there would not be any checking en route, had he undertaken the mission, Gopal said.


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