Maoists kidnap Collector in Chhattisgarh; two security guards killed

Maoists kidnap Collector in Chhattisgarh; two security guards killed

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Sukma:  As the hostage crisis involving an MLA in Odisha continues, Maoists today abducted a Collector in Sukma in Chhattisgarh. Two of his security guards were killed in the incident.

The kidnapping took place at around 4-4:30 pm in a remote village where Alex Paul Menon was attending the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan - a state government-run programme meant to promote greater coordination and connect between the villagers and administration. Suddenly, a few people, who were Maoists and had mingled with the locals in the crowd, went up the dais and tried to forcibly take away Mr Menon. The two security guards accompanying him tried to stop the Maoists and were shot dead in the process. Meanwhile, another group of motorcycle-borne Maoists arrived at the spot and whisked away the 32-year-old collector.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has asked for a detailed report on Mr Menon's abduction. He also spoke to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and assured him all help, including provisioning of extra security forces, if required.  The Chief Minister has said that no demands have been received by the Maoists so far. "We are talking to the IG and SP on this issue...We will take all necessary steps to release him," Mr Singh said.

Meanwhile, the Collector's wife who is expecting the couple's first child made an emotional appeal to the Maoists to release him on health grounds. "His medical condition is not very good. He has asthma. I request the government and the Maoists to understand that he only has two dosages with him, which is not sufficient. He will not be able to cope if any emergency situation arises. He has done so much for the district's development. I only request that they should release my husband as soon as possible," Asha Alex, Mr Menon's wife said. Her father, who is based in Chennai, also urged the rebels to free his son-in-law at the earliest.

The village from where Mr Menon was abducted is situated between Gadiras and Keralapal, areas that lie in the Sukma district which is a known Maoist stronghold. Mr Menon, a 2006-batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), is the first collector of Sukma after it was carved out of Dantewada as a new district. He was actively involved in the village programme and had a reputation of being a dynamic officer. The state government's initiative, that involves the administration reaching out to villages in Naxal-affected areas to bring them back into the mainstream and foster development, had reportedly upset the Maoists. Significantly, the brazen attack by the Maoists precedes the Left ultras targeting senior officials from the neighbouring district of Bijapur on Friday while they were returning after visiting a remote village in connection with the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan. The Collector of Bijapur and the local MLA escaped the landmine blast triggered by the rebels but three people in another car in the convoy were killed.

Interestingly, the location from where the collector has been kidnapped is around 200 kilometres away from the Koraput district in Odisha where a legislator from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is under Maoist captivity for nearly a month now.

Jhina Hikaka was abducted by Maoists on March 24 from the Koraput district while he was returning home from a political meeting. The Maoists have demanded the release of 29 prisoners in exchange for the Laxmipur MLA. The government has so far agreed to facilitate the release of only 25 prisoners including eight Maoists. It has also agreed to drop charges against 13 of them - including five Maoists.

Mr Menon's abduction is also a grim reminder of last year's kidnapping of R. Vineel Krishna, the Collector of Malkangiri, by Maoists in Odisha. The state government was forced to withdraw cases against five persons including a senior Maoist leader to secure the release of the young Collector.

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