Uncertainty prevailed over the fate of abducted Malkangiri District Collector R V Krishna following fresh demands made by Maoists, which were not acceptable, according to the Naxal-appointed mediators.
"The new demands by abductors are not acceptable now. It complicates the matter," said G Hargopal, one of the mediators chosen by the Maoists.
The mediators have said collector Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, should be released from captivity by Thursday evening.
The hostage crisis got complicated on Wednesday night after Maoists demanded that five other key activists should be freed immediately, apart from top leader Ganti Prasadam. Krishna was abducted by the left-wing ultras on February 16. The Maoists had laid down 14 demands for his release, and the Orissa government has conceded to all of them.
"We as mediators are surprised. We did not expect additional demands will come up. We appeal to them (abductors) to free the collector by 6 pm on February 24," Hargopal said.
Maoists, who freed junior engineer Pabitra Majhi on Wednesday, also sought the involvement of Swami Agnivesh in resolving the crisis. They expressed their intention to free the 30-year-old officer in the presence of the interlocutors.
Maoist leader Ganti Prasadam was sent to Koraput amid tight security on Wednesday night after being granted bail by the Orissa high court. Maoists have demanded that five others, including Sriramulu Srinivasalu and Padma, wife of a top rebel, should also be freed from jail immediately, official sources said.
The mediators, including Hargopal, told the abductors in a message that Srinivasalu had already been granted bail by a court in Malkangiri but he would have to be sent to Andhra Pradesh in connection with other cases in that state.
"Therefore it is not within the purview of Orissa government," Hargopal said. He added that the state government has already agreed to withdraw cases against Padma and three others, but the process may take some time.
Expressing surprise over the new demands, Ganti Prasadam, Hargopal and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao on Wednesday night made a joint appeal to the ultras to release Krishna on Thursday.
The commitment with a time-frame for the release of hostages was made to the Orissa government by the mediators after holding consultations with Ganti Prasadam, Varavara Rao and Srinivasulu.
Speaking about Swami Agnivesh, Hargopal had said on Wednesday that it would not be possible to involve him at this stage.
The conditions laid by the abductors were conveyed to the Malkangiri district administration in a letter sent through Majhi, according to official sources. Malkangiri is nearly 650 km from Bhubaneswar.
The appeal of the mediators had been aired on the radio in English and Telugu on Wednesday as the Maoists listen to radio regularly.