Raipur, Apr 26 - Talks between Maoist-handpicked mediators and those of the Chhattisgarh government commenced today to end the hostage crisis involving Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon who was abducted on Saturday, official sources said.
The meeting, which is aimed at the securing the safe release of the 32-year-old IAS officer, is underway at the Pahuna guest house, they said.
The dialogue between those mediating on behalf of the government and the outlaws will focus on the demands put forward by the Maoists, they said. A panel of legal experts is also known to have arrived here for participating in the meeting.
While the government chose former Chief Secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Nirmala Buch and S K Mishra as its mediators to resolve the six-day hostage crisis, the Maoists named former National SC/ST Commission Chairperson B D Sharma and Prof G Hargopal as its nominees.
The Maoists have demanded release of eight of their jailed leaders, including two women, halt to the anti-Maoist offensive "Operation Green Hunt" and sending security forces in Bastar to barracks.
Earlier, while speaking to reporters after his arrival in Raipur, Hargopal said that his top-most priority would be early freedom of Menon, who is an asthama patient.
The ex-professor from Hyderabad Central University also said that he has held such mediations previously also and would be able to handle it successfully this time too.
Meanwhile, Sharma, who has served as the Bastar Collector and is known to have good understanding of the tribals' problems in the Naxal-hit region, said he would try his best to get Menon freed even as he blamed the lax administration for his kidnapping.
Chief Minister Raman Singh said he was optimistic of Menon's safe and early release and hoped that the officer would soon return to his duty.
Singh said Menon was executing his responsibilities efficiently and trying to bring a positive change when he was abducted and added that it is no time to play blame game.
Former CPI MLA Manish Kunjam, who today returned after delivering medicines to Menon, said the officer's condition was "stable".
The state government on Tuesday had rushed medicines for the 2006-batch officer through Kunjam hours after the Maoists informed them that Menon was "critically ill".
Kunjam, who had left from Sukma to Tadmetla forests, said that he handed over the medicines to Menon yesterday afternoon.
Also, there have been reports of Asha, Menon's wife, falling ill apparently due to severe anxiety after her husband's abduction.
A helicopter with a team of doctors is said to have been sent to Sukma from Jagdalpur for her and she is now believed to be in sound health.
Naxals abducted Menon on Saturday from Majhipara village in Chhattisgarh's Raipur district when he was holding a meeting as part of the government's special Gram Suraj Abhiyan. A day later, the Maoists had set April 25 as the release deadline which expired yesterday. PTI