Chances of the release of Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon from Maoist custody brightened on Monday after rebel interlocutors and Chhattisgarh government mediators reached an agreement in the fourth round of talks.
The negotiators from both sides appealed to Maoists at a press conference in Raipur to free Menon, 32, within the next 48 hours. The signs of a breakthrough came on Menon's 10th day in captivity.
The state government interpreted this as a positive development. "It is a good start. We have reached a better position now," said chief minister Raman Singh.
Rebel interlocutors, BD Sharma and Prof G Hargopal, signed a two-page agreement with the government mediators, Nirmala Buch and SK Mishra.
According to the agreement, the government will form a high-powered committee to review Maoists demands to free their comrades from jail. The government will also take a fresh look at cases against people arrested on charges of being Maoists.
The CM said, "The high-powered review committee will be formed an hour after Menon is released." Buch, former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh, will head the committee.
Earlier in the day, Maoists had made the state government jittery by threatening to decide Menon's fate at a jan adalat.
Piling on the pressure, Ganesh Uike, secretary of CPI (Maoist) south Bastar divisional committee, extended the deadline till May 2 for the government to accept their demands.
"Sukma collector remains under observation of the People's Liberation Guerilla Army and other cadre as a prisoner of war," read Uike's statement. The two-page letter stated Menon would be handed over to the rebel interlocutors after rebel prisoners are set free by May 2. "We are not willing to keep the collector any more."