Raipur/New Delhi:  The Centre and Chhattisgarh government on Tuesday pinned hopes on the mediators of the state and Maoists to end the four-day hostage crisis involving Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon whose "critical" health condition prompted authorities to rush medicines for him.

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With just a day left for the Maoists' April 25 deadline to Chhattisgarh government to meet its demands in exchange for the freedom of Menon, the state today named two former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh--Nirmala Buch and S K Mishra--as its nominees to hold talks with the Naxals.

The Maoists named Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, former National SC/ST Commission chairperson B D Sharma and president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam as their mediators. However, Bhushan and Kunjam declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists. It was immediately not known when and where the talks will take place.

MEDICINE RUSHED

Kunjam however agreed to take the medicines to the 32-year-old 2006 batch IAS officer and was on his way to an undisclosed location after Menon was taken captive last Saturday. He was taken in an helicopter from Raipur and was proceeding to Tarimetla village by road to hand over the medicines for Menon, who is an asthma patient.

"Menon's life is supreme. I will be going to Sukma soon to take the medicines and then proceed to Tarimetla. Thereafter, I will come back," he said.

"We have been told by the family members that he (Menon) is an asthma patient and his health is deteriorating," Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters. The officer's abductors have conveyed that the condition of Menon is "critical". Buch said his top priority will be to ensure safe release of collector of Menon.

"I hope that the crisis will be resolved soon through dialogue," Buch, who is expected to reach Chhattisgarh on Wednesday, told over phone from Bhopal.

Union Home Secretary R K Singh hoped that the crisis will be resolved soon with the appointment of mediators. A worried Asha, Menon's wife, has also appealed to Maoists to send an audio/video tape of her husband, so that she can gauge his condition.

NEGOTIATIONS WITH MAOISTS

Raman Singh said since the dialogue process will be starting the Maoists should not insist on any deadline. The Maoists have demanded release of eight of their jailed leaders, halt to the anti-Maoist offensive "Operation Green Hunt" and sending security forces in Bastar to barracks. The operations against Maoists have since remained suspended.

"Buch and Mishra have been spoken to. They have stated that they will mediate with the Maoist mediators on behalf of the state government," Raman Singh said.

The Chief Minister said even though Kunjam had refused to mediate, the activist has responded to an appeal by him to carry medicines for Menon. Earlier, Menon's wife Asha had said that Menon was not carrying adequate medicines when he was abducted on Saturday.

In a statement, the Maoists had termed Menon's health as critical and asked the mediators to bring medicines along with them.  They asked the state government not to indulge in "delaying tactics" as Menon's health was deteriorating.

The Maoists had also said only the three persons named by them will be allowed to negotiate in Tarimetla village and asked them to accept the invitation to act as mediators.
 "There is a dispute. It needs to be resolved. Their (Maoists') demands are obvious,"    B D Sharma, a Maoist mediator, said.

Asked on how the government should react in such a situation, Sharma said, "We would wish both parties to sit down and discuss. That is what should be done and that is happening." He said, "The government is guilty of greater crimes. After all what is the government doing? Why there is so much unrest in the tribal areas? This is the question they need to answer."

Bhushan while declining to mediate on behalf of the Maoists however appealed to them to unconditionally release the Sukma District Collector. He also said in Delhi that the demands of the Maoists were "justified" and the government should address the issues facing them.

(JPN/Agencies)