Maoists on Sunday demanded release of eight of their jailed leaders in Chattisgarh and a halt to "Operation Green Hunt" in exchange for freedom of Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon, who was safe, a day afer he was abducted. The Maoists also set an April 25 deadline.
The demands were made even as spiritual leader Swami Agnivesh expressed willingness to mediate between the Naxals and the government to secure the release of the 32-year-old 2006-batch IAS officer, who was abducted Saturday at Majhipara village in Raipur district where he was meeting villagers for a government outreach programme.
Additional Director General of Police Ram Nivas (anti-Naxal operations) told reporters that the demands were made by an unidentified Naxal leader in an audio message to media organisations. The authenticity of the audio tape was being verified, he said, adding no Maoist group has got in touch yet with the state government.
According to Nivas, the demands made were an immediate halt to "Operation Green Hunt"(anti-Maoist offensive), sending security forces in Bastar region back to the barracks and release of eight jailed Maoist leaders including two women. In the message, the Maoist leader has alleged that false cases have been foisted against the eight jailed ultras.
Nivas said police have received some vital clues and added that Menon was safe.
Swami Agnivesh told PTI he was ready to mediate and was waiting for the government or the Naxals to approach him.
Menon's wife Asha in a fresh appeal said the Naxals should release her husband saying they were married only a few months ago and he had always worked for the people. She said that Menon had some health problems and was not carrying adequate medicines when he was abducted.
"He is an asthmatic patient and I request the government and the Naxals to understand that he is just left with two doses of medication," she said, adding that he would not be able to cope up with in case of an emergency.
The Association of IAS Officers in Chattisgarh held a meeting in Raipur on Sunday and appealed to the ultras to release the collector unharmed.
Locals in the area where Menon was kidnapped took out a peace march to demand his release. A large number of people, including school children, participated.
Senior state police officials told PTI they have received information that the Naxal leaders approached some media persons to give their statements about their demands.
According to the officials, the Naxals have demanded the release of their eight colleagues: Markam Gopanna alias Satyam [ Get Quote ] Reddy, Nirmal Akka alias Vijay Laxmi, Devpal Chandrashekhar Reddy, Shantipriya Reddy, Meena Choudhari, Korsa Sunny, Markam Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen.
They also want anti-Naxal Operation Green Hunt to be cancelled, security forces to be withdrawn from the region and persons against whom "fake cases" have been registered, released from the jails, officials said.
The Naxals have SET a deadline of April 25 before the government, after which, they would take a decision about the abducted collector in a Jan Adalat, they added.
Menon's wife Asha said she was keeping in touch with senior officials at the state and central levels and had talked to Union minister Jairam Ramesh [ Images ] and former Malkangiri collector Vinil Krishna, who had been abducted by Maoists a few months back in Odisha. Krishna asked her not to lose courage, she said.
Appealing for his release, she said Menon has done a lot for the new district's development. "I would just request them (Naxals) to free him as soon as possible," she added.
Menon's father A Varadhas said he came to know about the abduction from his daughter-in-law. At the time of the abduction, the Maoists asked him as to who was the collector, he said.
"My son stepped forward and said 'it is me'," he said adding that Menon was then taken away by the Naxals.
He said he had not been given information by the officials. He also said that he had been told by Asha that the locals were in touch with the chief minister. "They spoke to Raman Singh. He is doing the needful," he said.
Menon's father-in-law Venugopal said, "He (Menon) never did any wrong in his lifetime to anybody and neither has my daughter done any wrong to anybody....."
"Why the Maoists are doing such things?" he wondered.
The two security guards who were shot dead by the Naxals before Menon's abduction were given a guard of honour at Sukma district headquarters before their last rites were performed.