The Maoists, in a communiqué, have said that the missing CRPF commando is in their ‘safe custody’ and they are ready to release him only after an interlocutor will be appointed to talk to them.

The Maoists have, however, not raised any formal demands for his release.

The message has been delivered three days after the deadly attack on security forces in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district in which 22 personnel were killed and more than 30 wounded.

CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) commando Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, who went missing after the April 3 attack, will be in “safe custody till the process of appointing an interlocutor is completed” said the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the outlawed CPI (Maoist).

Constable Manhas of the 210th CoBRA battalion, an elite unit of CRPF, had gone missing during the fierce gun battle with a platoon of over 300 People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district in which 22 security personnel were killed and 31 were injured.

Over 1,000 security personnel of CRPF and Chhattisgarh’s District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Special Task Force (STF) took part in the operation. The gunbattle took place on Saturday at noon near Tekulgudem village under Tarrem police station.

In a two-page letter in Hindi issued on Wednesday, the banned outfit mentioned that they are ready to hold talks with the government but “the government is not honest”.

The state police as well as other agencies are verifying the authenticity of the statement.

The Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee also admitted that four of its cadres were killed in the gun battle and one is missing. Calling their killed associates as a comrade, the group said Odi Sunny, Padam Lakhma, Kowasi Badru and Noopa Suresh were killed in the shootout while “their comrade” Madvi Sukka is still missing as they could not find the body.

Citing intelligence inputs, the CRPF and the state police had earlier said that more than 12 Maoists were killed in the operation and over 16 received grievous injuries. “All the injured Maoist cadres were learnt to be taken into two-three tractor towards Jabbamarka and Gomguda region in the area.”

The CPI (Maoist) statement also claimed that 24 security personnel were killed in the “encounter”.

“As many as 2,000 police personnel had reached near Jiragudem village to execute a major attack (on Saturday). To thwart them, PLGA (Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army) retaliated during which 24 security personnel were killed and 31 others injured. We have caught a policeman (CoBRA commando) at the spot while others escaped,” said a statement purportedly written by Maoists and being circulated on social media on Tuesday.

It said the government should first announce the name of the interlocutor and the jawan will be released later. He will remain safe in our captivity till then, it said.

The letter was issued in the name of ‘Vikalp’, spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of Maoists, the group that has been instrumental in executing various deadly attacks in the region.

They also claimed to have seized 14 weapons, 2,000 cartridges and other materials from the encounter site.

The Maoists also issued photographs with the statement showing the robbed arms and ammunition.

(With IANS inputs)