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Saturday, 31 August, 2002, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
State halts Indian bandit search
Pritam Nagappa (R), son of abducted former minister, after meeting Karnataka's chief minister to discuss his father's abduction
Mr Nagappa's family is urging swift action

Police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka say they have suspended the search for the bandit Veerappan who kidnapped a former state minister H Nagappa about a week ago.


We have asked our men to maintain vigil but there is no combing operation as of now

Karnataka police officer

The action is being seen as an attempt to facilitate talks with Veerappan to negotiate the release of Mr Nagappa.

But operations are continuing against the bandit in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

The state's Chief Minister, Jayalalitha, has ruled out talks with Veerappan.

Observers said this reflected the stark contrast in the approach of the two governments, who have been jointly conducting operations to track down the elusive bandit for years.

Veerappan is wanted in more than 100 killings and hundreds of cases of elephant poaching as well as sandalwood smuggling.

He operates in the thick forests of Tamil Nadu, Karanataka and Kerala, and has evaded arrest for nearly 30 years.

Cabinet meeting

Mr Nagappa's family and opposition leaders have opposed a police assault to secure his release.

They say police action could prove risky and endanger Mr Nagappa's life.

The issue was discussed at a cabinet meeting chaired by Karnataka chief minister on Saturday.

Bandit Veerappan
Veerappan: India's most wanted bandit
After the meeting, the state's Home Minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, evaded direct questions on whether the STF operations have been suspended.

"The Special Task Force has been authorised to take all steps to secure Mr Nagappa's release," he said.

But senior police officials involved in the search operation said they have suspended the operation.

Soldiers of the STF were asked to remain on stand-by but they have been asked not to venture into the forests, officials said.

The state home minister refused to say whether the government has appointed an emissary to hold negotiations with the bandit.

He denied reports that Veerappan has sent a second audio tape with demands.

Mediators

Two advocates have so far offered to mediate with the bandit.

Venugopal and KR Subbukrishna have represented alleged Veerappan associates in several cases.

Police officials associated with the current hostage crisis say the bandit might opt for imprisoned Tamil politician P Nedumaran as the official emissary.

Imprisoned recently for his overt support for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels, Mr Nedumaran successfully negotiated the release of the film star Rajkumar who was kidnapped by Veerappan two years ago.

See also:

30 Aug 02 | South Asia
29 Aug 02 | South Asia
27 Aug 02 | South Asia
20 Jun 02 | South Asia
10 Dec 00 | South Asia
16 Nov 00 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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