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Maoists free Menon, says ready to serve in Sukma again

Sukma(IANS): After hours of tension Thursday, Maoists finally released Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon Thursday evening after 12 days of captivity. Menon said he was willing to serve in Sukma as collector again.

Menon, an IAS officer from Tamil Nadu, walked out of the Maoists hideout after 6.30 p.m. looking tired and exhausted. He was abducted from a forested area in Bastar region in Chhattisgarh April 21.

Menon expressed gratitude for his safe release. “I thank the mediators, my state government, my chief minister, my family members and mediapersons,” the Sukma collector told reporters gathered at Tarmetla, 80 km from here, to receive him.

Asked if his health was fine, the asthma patient, who was wearing a blue shirt and carrying a black bag on his right shoulder, said he was “OK”.

Asked if he would serve as collector in Sukma district again, he replied in the affirmative. “If the state government wishes, I am ready to serve in Sukma district as collector,” Menon said.

He was accompanied by one of the Maoist mediators B.D. Sharma.
Uncertainty had clouded Menon’s release after news reports said that he had been released in the afternoon. Celebrations broke out at the Sukma district collector’s home and his relatives started expressing thanks to the government and Maoists for the release.

For a few hours, however, there was no sign of the collector. In the evening, media persons waiting at the Chintalnar CRPF base camp, 3-4 km away from Tarmetla, received an SMS asking them to proceed to Tarmetla.

The SMS added to the tension among officials – would the Maoists finally release him or just brief the media persons. However, they finally did release him to the immense relief of everybody, including his wife Asha, who was in Sukma waiting for her husband.
Asthma medicines had been sent to the 2006 batch IAS officer through Left leader Manish Kunjam.

Maoists mediators – Professor G. Hargopal and B.D. Sharma – had gone to receive Menon somewhere at the edge of their landmine-protected hideout in Tarmetla, located more than 500 km south of state capital Raipur.

Tarmetla in Sukma is where the Maoists had killed 76 paramilitary personnel in April 2010.
Menon had been taken hostage at gunpoint by Maoists when he was interacting with tribespeople in Bastar region. His two bodyguards were killed when they resisted.

Chief Minister Raman Singh welcomed the release and expressed his thanks to the media in the “campaign for the safe release of the collector”. He described the release as a “first step toward achieving peace with the Maoists in the state”.

Earlier, Menon’s father A. Varadhas, based in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli, reacting to news reports of his release, thanked the Chhattisgarh government and the mediators and rebels. Speaking to reporters, he urged the rebels not to resort to abductions again.
Chhattisgarh government had arranged a chopper for the Maoists interlocutors to land in Bastar from Raipur to receive the collector.

The release of the 2006 batch IAS officer who hails from Tamil Nadu was ensured after Maoist interlocutors and Chhattisgarh government mediators Nirmala Buch and S.K. Mishra, former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, signed a two-page draft agreement on Monday night.

As per the agreement, a high-power review committee headed by Buch with Chief Secretary Sunil Kumar, Director General of Police Anil M. Navaney and Home Secretary N.K. Aswal as members, is to be set up to look into all demands made by the Maoists from time to time.

The demands include considering the cases of undertrial Maoists lodged in various jails in the state allegedly on fake charges.

The panel is to become functional within an hour of the release of the collector.

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