Exactly a week after Maoists abducted Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon at gun point, two interlocutors named by them on Saturday flew in to Bastar to brief the rebels about the government's response to their demands set for safe release of the young officer, an official in Raipur said.
"A government chopper with the interlocutors -- Hyderabad-based Professor G Hargopal and former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer BD Sharma -- on board left for Bastar in the morning, where they are all likely to visit Maoists' hideouts and brief them about the government response to their demands," the top official said.
The two interlocutors left for the Maoist-commanded area after at least three rounds of marathon meetings since Thursday with the Chhattisgarh government-appointed mediators -- Nirmala Buch, a former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary, and SK Mishra, a former Chhattisgarh chief secretary.
"The Maoists' interlocutors are carrying a clear-cut message from the Chhattisgarh government about the guerillas' two demands -- release of 17 jailed Maoists and halt to anti-Maoist offensive Operation Green Hunt -- and we are strongly hopeful of a very positive response from Maoists in a day or two," a senior official at police headquarters told IANS.
Menon, 32, a 2006 batch IAS officer, was abducted April 21 by rebels from a forested location in Sukma district, some 500 km south from Raipur, while he was interacting with tribals. The Maoists shot dead his two guards before marching him away at gunpoint.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh on Saturday had said: "Safe and early release of Menon is top priority. I will do the best to get back the young IAS officer from Maoists' clutches."
Meanwhile, Maoist militants on Friday justified abduction of Menon and asked the state government to make its stand clear on their demands if it wants his safe release.
In an e-mail sent to some media outlets by Maoist commander Ganesh Uike, who is a terror icon in certain forested parts in the troubled Bastar region, said the district collector was part of the system that had harassed several innocent persons, including Soni Sori, a lady teacher, who is in jail since October on charges of acting as a Maoist conduit.