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August 11, 2000
Veerappan sets eight-day deadline
N Sathiya Moorthy and Shobha Warrier in Madras
The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments' emissary, Nakkeeran editor R R Gopal, has brought back 'new conditions' from forest brigand Veerappan, for freeing Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajakumar and three others.
"He has sought clarifications on the governments' offers on the 10 conditions earlier laid down by him and has also proposed new conditions," Gopal told a news conference.
"Ransom money and amnesty are not among them," he quickly clarified.
"He has set an eight-day deadline for the governments to respond to the clarifications and his new demands," Gopal said. "That's all for the two chief ministers to discuss, decide and share with the media."
Gopal, who returned from Veerappan territory early on Friday, met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and senior police officials in the forenoon. Joining them later was Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna, with his team of aides and advisors.
They all viewed videocassettes that Gopal had brought with him. For the first time since the kidnap episode began and communication between both sides was established, Veerappan was visible -- with Rajakumar, other hostages and Gopal.
"He has become a kind of dictator," Gopal said about Veerappan. "He himself claims to be a Tamil militant now. This is not the Veerappan I had known during earlier meetings," he stated. However, Gopal was confident that Veerappan would free Rajakumar and the others.
Gopal said that he was willing to go back to Veerappan, if asked again. Rajakumar, the 73-year-old film-star, was acting like a young man, submerging his pain and sorrow, he said. "To be fair to Veerappan, he has been treating Rajakumar well and the star is maintaining good health and cheer," though the star had to walk up to 30 miles since his captivity, he added.
"Veerappan has shifted base in the 6000-square km forests four times since he kdnapped Rajakumar and promised that he would do it again, once I left," Gopal said, detailing the trekking he undertook, amid heavy rain that delayed his meeting with the brigand.
Gopal and associates Sivasubramaniam, Subbu, Balu and Mohan walked 30 kilometres inside the thick jungle to meet Veerappan and the four hostages. After completing the task assigned to him by the chief ministers, they walked back another 22 kilometres.
He had to wait for long before he could meet Veerappan. But, when they finally met, Gopal told him that he wanted to meet Dr.Rajakumar and the other hostages. "I wanted to know how they were." Veerappan refused. "You can't meet Dr Rajakumar. No terrorist allows anyone to meet the hostages."
It was only after half an hour of thought that Gopal was allowed to meet Dr Rajakumar. When Rajakumar saw Gopal from far he greeted him with folded hands.
"Even though he was under tremendous tension he did not show his feelings one bit. He seemed quite relaxed."
Gopal's video showed a strong wind blowing in the background and Dr Rajakumar, Gopal and the other hostages seated on a canvas, talking. An unruffled Rajkumar narrated how Veerappan had entered his farmhouse with a few others.
"At first, I thought somebody had come from the income tax department! It was only later I saw Veerappan. I recognised him immediately," Rajakumar told Gopal.
Though Rajakumar looked relaxed, the three others were tense. The video also showed Gopal flanked by Veerappan and Rajakumar. As Veerappan talked, Rajkumar munched biscuits and groundnuts.
On reports that some Tamil extremist groups were using Veerappan as a cover for their demands, Gopal said, "There were nine people there, but Veerappan was indisputably the 'captain'. I do not know whether they were terrorists, but Veerappan himself is a Tamil terrorist now. Earlier, I could meet his hostages with little difficulty. Now he behaves like a dictator. He acted very tough too. We were allowed to photograph only Veerappan and Govindan. When I was about to leave, I asked him to send the hostages with me. He refused."
"I have completed merely 25 per cent of the job assigned to me. If only I had been able to bring all the hostages back, I would have been able to state confidently that I was successful. I want to bring them back not because one among them, Dr Rajakumar, is a big star in Karnataka, but because he and the others are human beings. I want to bring them back safely."
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