A self-proclaimed Maoist spokesman today claimed that the three policemen abducted by the rebels were safe and the proof about this would be provided shortly, but demanded the Bihar government immediately halt operations and call for talks.
The spokesman, Avinash, rang up media offices including PTI and said they would provide by 4 pm an audio CD containing the voices of the three policemen kidnapped on Sunday from Lakhisarai district.
"Take it from me that all the three are safe," he said.
But time was running out and the state government should immediately hold talks for the release of the three, he said.
"We want the state government should halt the operations and hurry to hold talks for securing the safe release of the three hostages," he said.
Asked about his earlier statement that sub-inspector Abhay Yadav had been killed, he said, "I made the statement to create fear in the minds of those handling the hostage situation."
Without naming BMP havildar Lucas Tete, whose bullet-riddled body was found yesterday from the Kajra police station area in Lakhisarai district, Avinash said that the killing had taken place on Thursday night and the body thrown on the road.
Avinash claimed that the execution was decided by the 'committee'.
Asked whether the deadline for freeing the hostages had been extended, he said, it had already expired, "but we are still waiting for a positive response from the government (on the release of eight Maoists)."
An intensified operation was underway for the rescue of sub-inspectors Rupesh Kumar and Abhay Yadav and BMP havildar Ehtesham Khan.
Combing operations on
With the Maoists continuing to elude the police dragnet, combing operations to trace the three policemen abducted by the Naxals were today expanded to fresh areas in Bihar's Banka, Kaimur, Jamui, Munger and Lakhisarai districts.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is personally monitoring the combing operation, has called an all-party meeting in Patna on Saturday to discuss the situation arising out of the crisis, officials said.
"The area of combing has been further expanded to the districts of Banka, Kaimur and fresh hilly and forest areas in Munger, Jamui and Lakhisarai districts," Director General of Police (DGP) Neelmani told PTI in Patna.
Without specifying the security deployment, Neelmani said adequate security personnel were combing the areas, mostly in difficult hilly trains and a big mountain bordering these districts.
On reports that the mastermind of the encounter in which the Maoists killed seven policemen and looted around 35 rifles from policemen on Sunday in Lakhisarai district has been arrested, he said, "We have no information about it".
In Jamui, police sources said that two Naxalites, including Pinki Yadav, were apprehended in Jamui town this morning when they were speaking to their colleagues from a telephone booth.
Official sources said the Centre has dispatched more than 200 additional security personnel and two choppers to Lakhisarai to assist in the anti-Naxal campaign launched in the extremist controlled pockets along the Bihar-Jharkhand border.
Four Bihar policemen - Tete, Yadav, Rupesh Kumar Sinha and Ehsan Khan - were kidnapped by Maoists after a six-hour gunfight in Lakhisarai district on Sunday. The gunbattle left seven policemen dead and 10 injured.
The Maoists have also warned the Bihar government of more attacks if the operations against them did not stop immediately.
(With IANS inputs)