Two Orissa officials kidnapped two days ago by Maoists are safe and in good health in rebel custody as the state intensified its efforts to free the district collector and the junior engineer, a senior state official said on Saturday.
State chief secretary B K Patnaik said: "As per the information available with us, the two abducted men are safe and in good health."
After halting anti-Maoist operations since Thursday - one of the conditions the rebels had laid down for the release of the officials - the government is now considering their other demands, a senior home department official told IANS.
R Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkangiri, was abducted along with junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi by Maoists on Wednesday evening. This is the first time an Indian Administrative Service official has been kidnapped in the state.
The other conditions the rebels have set include the release of all political prisoners, the scrapping of accords with multinational companies and compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody.
The rebels, who had initially given a two-day deadline, extended it by another 48 hours after it lapsed Friday evening.
A Maoist leader, identifying himself as Bhaskar, secretary of the Andhra-Orissa Border State Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, late on Friday night said this to a section of media in Bhubaneswar.
The state government has requested two human rights activists and academics R S Rao and Hargopal to mediate with the rebels.
Both Rao and Hargopal are expected to reach Bhubaneswar on Saturday, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement in the assembly.
Hargopal said that since both the mediators don't know Oriya and about the situation in the state, the release of Maoist leader Ghanti Prasadam will help them to speed up dialogue with the abductors.
"I appeal to the government of Orissa to release Ghanti Prasadam," Hargopal said in an interview from Delhi to a local television channel.
He also said the case in which Prasadam was booked in the state is not a very serious one.
"Most of the cases against him are in Andhra Pradesh and the high court has already granted him bail," he said.
"Once he is out, perhaps I and R S Rao will try to intervene in the situation. Prasadam can speak on behalf of the party (Communist Party of India-Maoist). Perhaps we can find some solution," he said.
A senior home department official said the government is examining the request and will take appropriate action soon. The government may agree to this proposal, he said.
Meanwhile, people continued their appeal on Saturday by holding rallies in different parts of the state. The state assembly also appealed for the safe release of the hostages.
State steel and mines minister Raghunath Mohanty moved the resolution which was unanimously adopted.
"The house expresses its deep concern on the issue of abduction. The house unanimously appeals through media for the release of both the persons. This house shares and sympathises the agony and anxiety of their family members," said the resolution.