RAIPUR The Maoists on Tuesday evening released a statement confirming that the missing CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) commando is in their custody and sought the appointment of a mediator to whom he could be handed over.

On Saturday, 22 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s elite CoBRA unit, District Reserve Guard (DRG), and the Special Task Force (STF) lost their lives in a five-hour long clash with Maoists, with reports suggesting that around 20 Maoists were also killed. The Maoists, however, claimed in their statement that only four of their cadres were killed.

One trooper was missing and it was believed he was abducted by the Maoists, which the Tuesday release by the CPI (Maoist) confirmed. The missing CoBRA commando, Rakeshwar Singh Manhas is from Jammu.

”The jawan has not been located till now . A searching drive is underway. We got information through a Maoist press release about a jawan in their custody. We are still verifying the press release and appropriate decisions will be taken accordingly,” inspector general of Bastar, P Sunderaj, said.

In 2012, Hyderabad-based professor G Hargopal and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer B D Sharma had acted as mediators when Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon was abducted by the rebels.

Shubharashu Chaudhary, a peace activist working in Bastar, believes that local journalists should be roped in to hold talks as soon as possible. “Local journalists should be appointed by the government as a mediator as soon as possible “Chaudhary said.

A press note issued by Maoist Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, said: “The state government should appoint interlocutor, we will then handover the jawan to them. Until then, the jawan will be safe in the custody of Jantana Sarkar”.

The statement added that four Maoist cadres were killed in Saturday’s encounter and that they seized a huge number of arms and ammunition after the attack.

“Total 14 weapons and around 2,000 bullets were seized after the encounter,” the statement said. It also claimed that at least 150 villagers have been killed in operations of security forces since November 2020.

In Saturday’s encounter, out of the 22 deaths, the CRPF lost eight men, including seven commandos of CoBRA and one jawan of the Bastariya battalion; eight of the other deceased were from the DRG and six from the STF.

On Monday, Sunderaj said the state police were committed to bringing the commando back if reports of him being abducted were confirmed.

Meanwhile, the family members of the jawan have appealed to his abductors to release him.

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