Maoists on Sunday claimed to have released the three Bihar policemen they had kidnapped a week ago, but the state government said it had no information about them, as the agonising wait for their families continued.
Hopes of an end to the hostage crisis were dashed when there was no trace of the abducted policemen several hours after the Maoists claimed they had released them.
"The search has been intensified as we have to ensure the safe release of the hostages," said Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters) P K Thakur.
"We do not depend on the media reports that showed Maoists claiming to have released the cops," he said.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also said that he had no knowledge about the release of the hostages.
His comments followed a claim by the Maoists to some local media offices that they had released the three cops. Local TV channels in Jamui quoting Maoist sources as saying that the policemen had been released in Belhar forest on the border of Banka and Jamui.
According to footage beamed on a local channel, a self- proclaimed Maoist leader identifying himself as 'Kishanji' met family members of one of the hostages, Abhay Prasad Yadav, in the wee hours of Sunday and assured them that he would be home soon.
"We have alerted the superintendents of police of these districts, but not a single hostage has been located anywhere," said Director General of Police Neelmani and Inspector General (Operation) of Police K S Dwivedi, who are overseeing the combing operation in the districts of Munger, Jamui, Lakhisarai, Banka and Kaimur.
The area of search operation concentrated mostly in the hills and forests of the districts of Banka, Jamui, Munger, Lakhisarai and Kaimur, Dwivedi said.
A solution to the week-long hostage crisis in the state appeared to have emerged with a Maoist leader on Saturday night claiming that the three kidnapped policemen -- Rupesh Kumar Sinha, Mohammad Ehsaan and Abhay Yadav -- would be freed by 8 am on Sunday. They had earlier killed one of the captives, Lucal Tete. His body was found on Friday.
Under intense pressure to end the crisis in the poll-bound state, the chief minister on Saturday held an all-party meeting and offered Maoists safe passage if they came forward for talks and released the hostages.
Avinash, a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Maoists, had claimed on Saturday night that the central committee had decided to let off the three policemen.
Giving a glimmer of hope, 'Kishanji' said, "Naxalites do have mothers and sisters and we don't want your family to grieve anymore."
Dwivedi said, "We too have seen the TV footage, but we don't know the identity of the person as yet."