Talks between Maoist-chosen mediators and the Orissa government for the release of abducted Malkangiri district collector and an engineer have been postponed till Sunday even as the state administration examined the charges against certain key Naxalites whose freedom from jail would facilitate the safe return of the hostage duo.
As collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi spent the fourth day in captivity, the much-awaited meeting between Orissa government and two mediators, which was slated for Saturday night, was deferred as the latter failed to reach Bhubaneswar.
"We could not go to Bhubaneswar. We will reach there on Sunday morning," Prof Hargopal, one of the Hyderabad-based mediators, told PTI over phone, while another mediator Prof Someswar Rao was said to be unwell.
While preliminary talks were held with the mediators over phone, preparatory work was being done by senior state officials ahead of the crucial negotiations for securing the safe release of Krishna and Majhi who were abducted from Chitrakonda area of Malkangiri district on Wednesday evening.
With Maoists demanding the release of some of their jailed comrades, Orissa government on Saturday examined the charges against certain key Naxals whose release is expected to facilitate the safe return of the two abducted officials.
The move came after it received a list of names of Maoists lodged in jails of Orissa on sedition charges.
During preliminary telephonic talks, Prof Hargopal had suggested to state Home Secretary U N Behera that it would be easy to negotiate with the abductors if some key persons like Gantiprasad, who faces about 100 cases in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, were released.
Besides, Maoists, through the district administration of Malkangiri, had given some names for their release claiming that they had no direct involvement in crimes in Orissa.
S Srinivasulu, former chief of pro-Maoist Revolutionary Writers Association in Andhra Pradesh and senior member of CPI (Maoist), was one man whose release was demanded. Maoists also sought the release of Padma, wife of a top Maoist leader.
While considering the demands made by Maoists through letters and mediators, the state government on Saturday held a high-level meeting attended by Chief Secretary B K Patnaik, Home Secretary Behera and anti-Maoist operation officers.
Asked whether the government has agreed to release some rebels, Patnaik said, "No decision has been taken on release of any Maoists. The issue may come up only during formal negotiations."
The chief secretary, however, did not appear to rule out the possibility of release of any Maoist leader to facilitate safe release of Krishna and Majhi.
"It is premature to say that the government has agreed to release any one now. Let us wait for the discussion," he said adding some other issues could also crop up during the negotiations.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the government had already conceded a major demand of the rebels by halting anti-Naxal operations across the state since Thursday while it was open to discuss other demands.
Meanwhile, a Koraput court on Saturday rejected the bail pleas of four senior Maoist leaders and their associates whose release was demanded by the abductors.
A plea for similar relief for another, whose freedom was also demanded by the abductors, was posted for hearing on Monday by a separate court.
Joining others in seeking the release of the abducted officials, Orissa assembly adopted a resolution unanimously appealing for their safe release.
Amid anxiety among the people belonging to all walks of life about the the two government officials, the chief secretary told reporters that both Krishna and Majhi were safe and in good health. The state government as well as the mediators appealed to the abductors not to harm the hostages.
The abduction of the collector and junior engineer from remote Chitrakonda area, a Maoist stronghold bordering Andhra Pradesh, has drawn widespread condemnation with people from all walks of life staging peace rallies in different parts of the state seeking their safe release.