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Veerappan strikes again!

The sandalwood smuggler and self-confessed killer has struck again.

On Thursday, Veerappan kidnapped six people including a senior official of the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research from the Bandipur sanctuary on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. Dr Satyabrata Maiti of West Bengal is the project coordinator (Betal vines) and second in command at the IIHR, a central government undertaking.

The brigand has sent an audio cassette listing fresh demands to the Karnataka government. Forest Minister Dr Gurupadappa Nagmarpalli told United News of India that the cassette was being brought to Bangalore by some forest officials.

Veerappan had kidnapped nine Karnataka forest rangers on July 12 and kept them in captivity for 45 days demanding an amnesty.

Dr Nagmarpalli said the brigand struck early on Thursday morning when he stopped a van carrying 14 tourists, including five women and three boys besides four forest department officials. When the forest department sent a six-member search party after a couple of hours, Veerappan, who was waiting for them at Hullikatte, five km from Bandipur, sent back two drivers with an audio cassette demanding that senior forest officials rush to the spot.

Later, the minister said, he released the tourists including members of Dr Maiti's family. Besides Dr Maiti, Veerappan is holding two researchers and three forest officials hostage. The released tourists trekked to safety, Dr Nagmarpalli added.

And with this abduction, the off-again, on-again tale of Veerappan's self-proposed surrender returns to the backburner, while top police officials led by Director General of Police (Karnataka) T Srinivaslu confer with Chief Minister J H Patel about the development.

"I am very sorry to hear about the abduction," was the reaction of Nakkeeran editor R Gopal in Madras.

It was, in case memory needs a jog, Gopal who, a couple of months ago, had gone into the jungles to negotiate the release of the nine hostages abducted by Veerappan, and to bring back the brigand's terms for his surrender.

Those terms -- or a portion thereof -- were found unacceptable by the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Veerappan had demanded that he and his fellow bandits should not be held in jail for more than two years -- a demand that was rejected out of hand.

On that occasion, Veerappan had given the governments one month to come to a final decision. That deadline has expired and, presumably, this latest kidnapping is in response to the government's stand.

"I came to know about the kidnapping just now," said Gopal when Rediff On The NeT contacted him in Madras. "What can I say? I am shocked, anguished. The last time, when we undertook the strenuous task of going inside the jungles to meet him and rescue the nine hostages he had taken at that time, we had hoped this would not happen again. I can only compare this to the story of Betaal who kept asking Raja Vikramaditya questions and, on receiving answers, clambered back up the peepul tree."

Gopal denied that any ransom money had been paid on that occasion to Veerappan to procure the release of the hostages. "No," he averred, "we did not carry any money. I assure you that nothing of that sort happened. This allegation is because of jealousy by a section of people, there is no truth to it."

Will Gopal undertake another mission into the jungles? "It is too early to comment on that," he said, adding significantly, "and we cannot keep going in there over and over again."

On the previous occasion, Gopal had gone in as special emissary of the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments, at the latter's request. What if a similar request is made again? "Too early to comment about that," said the editor.

Meanwhile, officials confer on ways and means of dealing with the latest crisis in the seemingly endless tale of the bloodstained bandit.

Shobha Warrier, UNI


The R Gopal Chat
Veerappan delays surrender; releases hostages
'They want to kill me. What is wrong in me killing someone who is trying to kill me?'

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