Hostages safe, Govt says no combing operns against Naxals

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Bhubaneswar, Feb 20 (PTI) Orissa government today saidthere will be no combing operations against Naxals tillconclusion of negotiations with the mediators for release ofabducted IAS officer and a junior engineer who are safe andremained in captivity for the fifth day.

Maoist-chosen mediators assured Orissa government thehostage duo would not be harmed and that rebels would refrainfrom violence as long as negotiations are underway after theyopened talks for release of 30-year-old IAS officer andMalkangiri district Collector R V Krishna and junior engineerPabitra Majhi.

The mediators said "more time" was needed to secure therelease after the day-long talks amid the likelihood of someNaxals being released on bail in line with the rebels'' demand.

The talks remained inconclusive and would resume tomorrow.

"The mediators assured us that no harm will be causedto Malkangiri collector R V Krishna and junior engineerPabitra Mohan Majhi when talks are on," Home secretary U NBehera told reporters while reading out a joint-statementissued after the first round of talks.

Both Krishna and Majhi are safe, Behera said.

Stating that detailed discussions were held in acongenial manner, the joint statement said it was agreed thatthere would not be any combing operation till the negotiationsare over.

At the same time, the Maoists would not indulge in anyuntoward incident, disturbance or road blockade that couldhamper the peace process as long as talks are on, thestatement said.

Besides Behera, Panchayati Raj Secretary S N Tripathyrepresented Orissa government during the negotiations whilethe Andhra Pradesh-based mediators were Prof Hargopal and ProfSomeswar Rao.

The Naxals are demanding among other things release ofabout 700 tribals, now lodged in jails on charges of beingMaoists and release of certain key Maoists like GantiPrasadam. They are also demanding complete halt to jointanti-naxal combing operations in entire Orissa-AP borderregion by security forces of the two states.

"We are working out modalities on how to end thehostage crisis and facilitate the release of Krishna and thejunior engineer.... It may take more time," Hargopal said,maintaining that the talks process has just started.

Behera said, "We are in the process of discussions.

Whether some people will go to Malkangiri as part of the talksprocess, will have to be decided."

He, however, made it clear that the mediators were notgoing to the district because of health reasons.

While the mediators showed keenness to resolve thecrisis, the state government was examining Maoist demand forrelease of some rebel leaders who were languishing indifferent jails at present, sources said.

The interlocutors are believed to have pressed forrelease of certain key Maoists like Ganti Prasadam on bail,they said. Hargopal had earlier said the jailed ultra couldplay a significant role in negotiating with the rebel leadersfor freeing the abducted officials. .

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