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Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 17:27 GMT
Kidnapped Indian politician found dead
Pritam Nagappa (R), Mr Nagappa's son, after meeting Karnataka's chief minister
Nagappa's family is shocked by the news
Indian police have found the body of a former state minister, Hannur Nagappa, in a jungle in the southern state of Karnataka.

Mr Nagappa was seized from his home in August by India's most wanted bandit, Veerappan.

In his most recent audiotaped message, Veerappan said Mr Nagappa had been wounded in an exchange of fire with police and was being released.

H Nagappa
Nagappa was seized from his home

"It is a sad moment for all of us. We had expected the safe release of Nagappa. His body was found about six-to-seven kilometres from the place the bandit had mentioned in the tape," said the Karnataka Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge.

Veerappan had said he had abandoned the wounded minister in the jungle.

Immediately afterwards, police launched a massive search for the abducted minister.

A senior police officer told the BBC that a special task force was combing the area where Veerappan was believed to be hiding.

There had been several unsuccessful attempts to free the politician in the past 100 days.

High-profile hostage

Veerappan kidnapped Nagappa from his house in Chamrajnagar district of the state, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Karnataka's capital Bangalore on 25 August.

The bandit - wanted for more than 100 murders and elephant-poaching - had earlier threatened to kill Nagappa if his choice of negotiator was not accepted by the government.

He demanded that a jailed Tamil activist, Kollathur Mani, be sent to his jungle hideout to negotiate Mr Nagappa's release.

Mr Mani has been serving a jail sentence for supplying arms to Veerappan.

Despite some criticism, the government had agreed to release Mr Mani.

Although the state high court granted bail to Mr Mani, he could not be released immediately because of a series of court cases pending against him.

Ruthless bandit

Veerappan, a tall, wiry bandit with a trademark handlebar moustache, began his career in crime as an ivory poacher and killed his first elephant when he was only 14.

Bandit Veerappan
Veerappan: Self-styled "Robin Hood"

From elephant poaching, Veerappan graduated to sandalwood smuggling, kidnapping and murder.

He has been accused of smuggling ivory worth $2.6m and sandalwood worth $22m.

He has been mainly operating in Satyamangalam forests on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

In the early 1990s, a joint task force of nearly 2,000 police officers was formed to comb through the forests. The government also announced a $33,000 reward on his head.

In August 2000 he kidnapped the popular film star Rajkumar and kept him in custody for more than 100 days.

It is believed that he was released after a huge ransom was paid to the bandit, though the family and government both denied that.

Robin Hood ?

A major difficulty in arresting the fugitive is his excellent information network, which enables him to stay one step ahead of law enforcers.

Veerappan's supporters like to portray him as a kind of Robin Hood figure amongst the locals.

But police say villagers remain silent about Veerappan's movements because of the terror tactics of his gang members, who kill suspected informers.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Mynott in Delhi
"He disappeared from his home kidnapped by Veerappan"
See also:

22 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Oct 02 | South Asia
14 Oct 02 | South Asia
07 Sep 02 | South Asia
27 Aug 02 | South Asia
30 Aug 02 | South Asia
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