RAIPUR/CHENNAI: Maoists on Sunday demanded the 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 a day after he was abducted, and set an April 25 deadline.
Police said the Collector was safe, while unconfirmed reports from Odisha said his abductors had sneaked him over to the Malkangiri forests in the state.
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 on 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 tape was being verified, he said, adding that no Maoist group had 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.
Asha Menon, the Collector’s wife, said on Sunday that the Centre had promised all possible efforts in rescuing her husband.
Speaking to Express in Chennai over the phone from Sukma an hour before the tape was received by media houses in Chhattisgarh, Asha said the family had spoken to Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh who expres­sed confidence that her husband would be rescued without any danger. “We were promised all possible help from the Centre. However, we are waiting for a message from the kidnappers for the future course of action,” Asha said in a confident tone.
The Association of IAS Officers in Chattisgarh held a meeting here 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.
The Naxals have demanded the release of their eight colleagues: Markam Gopanna alias Satyam Reddy, Nirmal Akka alias Vijay Laxmi, Devpal Chandrashekhar Reddy, Shantipriya Reddy, Meena Choudhari, Korsa Sunny, Markam Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen.