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Scribes brokered hostage parley

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2009

Armed Maoist rebels escort police officer Atindranath Datta (third right) to his release in presence of the media in the village of Bholagara in Midnapore District, on Thursday.

Armed Maoist rebels escort police officer Atindranath Datta (third right) to his release in presence of the media in the village of Bholagara in Midnapore District, on Thursday.

KOLKATA: It was a nerve-wracking 48 hours for a group of senior government officials and police officers, who remained cooped up in their
Writers’ Buildings chambers, searching for ways to secure Sankrail OC Atindranath Dutta’s release.

With Maoist leader Kishanji refusing to interact with officials directly, the government was at a loss. Two senior BBC journalists came to their aid helping strike a deal through a prolonged negotiation that lasted more than 24 hours. They acted as facilitators and served as a bridge between the rebels and the government.

The drama started soon after Dutta’s abduction. “Initially, the government was a bit confused. On Wednesday morning, they sought our help. Having worked in the North-East for several years, I have been involved in facilitating several such hostage negotiations. We wanted to start a dialogue but couldn’t since we needed at least one government official to participate but there was none,” said senior BBC journalist Subir Bhaumik, who initiated the dialogue.

Most government officials were hesitant to join the negotiation. Finally, an officer was assigned and Kishanji was contacted. “The conversation started off very amicably and Kishanji seemed to appreciate that we were sincere about the release of the prisoners. We told him that it was not possible for the government to release them officially. But their bail plea would not be contested when the case came up for hearing on Thursday. We also agreed to stop the police operation. Kishanji was satisfied and then we talked about the modalities of Dutta’s release. He said he would release Dutta in front of the media and make a political statement after he had been set free. By 4.30 pm on Wednesday, the deal appeared to be on course,” said Bhaumik.

But a communication gap threatened to derail the agreement. Barring a small group of police and government officers, no one knew about the deal. “There was none to tell the administration that the firing had to stop. Bullets were fired this morning, almost scuttling the deal. Kishanji was furious and went on air saying Dutta’s release was no longer guaranteed. Talks resumed again and we convinced him that it was a communication error. The firing stopped, and the deal was back on course. But some channels went on telecasting Kishanji’s comments, which led to panic. By 11 am on Thursday, it became clear that Dutta would be released,” added Bhaumik.

The negotiators, however, kept their fingers crossed till the last moment. TOI

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