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Menon to be released in 48 hours: Maoists’ mediators

Raipur(PTI): An end to the 10-day hostage crisis involving Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon was in sight with Maoists’ mediators announcing tonight that the IAS officer will be released within 48 hours.

The breakthrough to ensure the safe return of the 32-year-old collector, who was abducted on April 21, on or before May 2 came in the form of an agreement between the two mediators each of the Chattisgarh government and the Maoists at their fourth round of talks today. The talks were spread over three days.

“I hope Alex Paul Menon will be released within 48 hours,” Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters here tonight after the two-page agreement was initialled by the mediators in the presence of Principal Secretary(Home) N K Aswal. Under the agreement, the mediators nominated by Maoists have agreed as a “gesture of goodwill” to ensure the safe return of Menon within 48 hours i.e on or before May 2.

The agreement did not concede the demand by the Maoists for the release of their eight jailed associates in exchange for the freedom of Menon, an asthmatic for whom medicines had to be rushed in deep jungles. But, the statement said government has agreed to set up a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Nirmala Buch, one of the two Government mediators, to review the cases of all prisoners languishing in Chattisgarh jails including the cases demanded by the Maoists.

The Committee, which will have Chief Secretary and state DGP as members, shall become operational “within an hour” of the release of Menon, according to the agreement. The other government mediator was S K Misra. The Maoists were represented by Dr B D Sharma and Prof. G Hargopal.

There was no immediate word directly from the Maoists on the agreement which is expected to pave the way for ending the tense hostage crisis.

“Under the given circumstances, we as mediators feel that this was the agreement that could be worked out. We appeal to Maoist party, Southern Regional Committee, Dandakaranya to consider this proposal favourably and ensure safe return of the Collector Alex Paul Menon, whose spouse is in the family way,” Sharma and Hargopal said in their joint appeal to the captives of the Collector.

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