New Delhi, April 27, 2012
Alex Paul Menon
Even as mediators began another round of talks today to secure the freedom of Alex Paul Menon, the Collector and District Magistrate of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh who was abducted by Maoists last Saturday, the rebels have reportedly come up with a new demand for the release of nine more of their associates.
Earlier, the Maoists were learnt to have sought the release of eight of their colleagues, an end to the "Operation Greenhunt" by security forces against them and the withdrawal of Central para-military forces from the state in exchange for the freedom of the 32-year-old Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer.
Media reports from Sukma said the Maoists had sent a fresh list of demands with the names of nine more of their associates, whom they want freed from prison.
Yesterday, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and former MLA Manish Kunjam, who was rushed by the Chhattisgarh government to deliver medicines for Menon, had said that the official was safe and in good health.
Speaking to reporters after his return to Sukma yesterday, Kunjam said he had gone for two tasks: to deliver the medicines for Menon, who is said to be a patient of asthma, and to enquire about his health.
"I have carried out both these tasks," he said, but, despite persistent queries, declined to say whether he had actually met Menon.
The Chhattisgarh government has named former Chief Secretaries Nirmala Buch of Madhya Pradesh and S K Mishra of Chhattisgarh as its mediators for talks with the negotiators nominated by the Maoists.
The Maoists had initially named three mediators to negotiate on their behalf, but one of them, senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, said he would talk to the Maoists only after they released the 32-year-old Menon. He appealed to the Maoists to release Menon unharmed and unconditionally.
"In my view kidnapping a civilian officer and holding him as a hostage is not right. Maoists should release the officer unconditionally. Most of the demands of the Maoists are justified, but I cannot negotiate with the Maoists in this situation," he had told mediapesons.
The others named by the Maoists are B D Sharma, a former Collector of the undivided Bastar district and an expert on tribal issues, and Kunjam, the former MLA from Konta district.
The state government had rushed medicines through Kunjam after the Maoists had issued a statement on Tuesday morning saying that Menon was in a bad state.
Kunjam had declined to participate in the mediation process but had volunteered to carry medicines to the kidnapped officer. Menon's wife Asha had earlier said that he was carrying medicines for only two days with him.
The Maoists had later nominated Prof G Hargopal as one of their negotiators.
Menon, the first Collector and District Magistrate of the newly-formed district, was taken hostage by a group of Maoists on Saturday. He is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 2006 batch.
Two of Menon's security guards were shot dead by the Maoists who waylaid his vehicle near Keralapal area in the district when he was on his way back to the district headquarters after attending a "Gram Swaraj Abhiyan" - a state government-run programme - in a village.
Gram Swaraj is a programme aimed at ensuring better coordination between people in the villages and the administration.
Menon's wife Asha issued an appeal on Saturday to the Naxalites, urging them to release her husband. She pointed out that they were married only a few months ago and he had always worked for the welfare of the people of the area.
Menon is the second IAS officer to be kidnapped by the Maoists in recent times. In February last year, the left-wing extremists had abducted the Collector and District Magistrate of Malkangiri in neighbouring Odisha, R Vineel Krishna and held him hostage for eight days before freeing him after the state government agreed to several conditions laid down by them.