Indian rebels extend deadline for release of officials

Indian rebels extend deadline for release of officials

Two mediators were expected to begin talks with Maoist rebels for the release of two abducted officials, the chief minister of the eastern India state of Orissa said Saturday, DPA reported.

R Vineel Krishna, a collector of Malkangiri district, and engineer Pabitra Majhi were abducted Wednesday as they returned from a meeting with locals in the tribal-dominated region.

The rebels extended a 48-hour deadline for their release soon after it expired Friday.

They also named two academics based in Hyderabad, the capital of southern Andhra Pradesh state, to mediate for the release of the hostages.

The rebels' demands included withdrawal of paramilitary troops from the region and the release of some jailed rebel leaders and supporters. "Professor Someswar Rao and professor Hargopal will reach here today ... then we will start discussions on the demands made by the Maoists," Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the legislative assembly Saturday.

Military operations in Malkangiri had been halted to clear way for negotiations, he said.

The district bordering Andhra Pradesh state is among those most-affected by insurgency. It was cut off from the rest of Orissa state on Friday after the rebels blocked the main road.

More than one-third of India's 626 administrative districts are affected by insurgency, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as the main internal security threat.

The rebels claim they are fighting for the rights of tribal, landless and poor people in some of the country's poorest regions.

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