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States defy bandit with troop muscle

Aug. 28: The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have virtually disregarded forest brigand Veerappan’s threat to behead former minister H. Nagappa if the operations of security forces against him are intensified.

The special task forces of the two governments have not only strengthened combing operations in the Kollegal forests, where Veerappan is supposed to be hiding, but have also invited Central forces to join them. The Central forces, which are trained in surveillance and intelligence gathering and expected to team up with the state forces tonight or tomorrow, include aerial survey teams also.

The combing operations today were mainly along the jungles near Kambatharaayan Giri, the highest peak in Tamil Nadu’s Erode district.

The intensity of operations is in stark contrast to the strategy adopted by the two governments in July 2000 when Kannada screen idol Rajkumar was abducted by the bandit. The two states had then joined hands on a mission of negotiation. Negotiators were sent to the Sathyamangalam forests to work out a compromise.

Sources say one of the reasons for the new stand of the governments is the absence of people willing to negotiate.

In Bangalore, Rajkumar said he would appeal to Veerappan to release his hostage. “I will ask him with folded hands,” he said. His wife Parvathamma said they would appeal to Veerappan through All India Radio, like they did two years ago. “We have also told Nagappa’s family to keep in touch with Veerappan through radio and pray to God, which is what we did,” she added.

Rajkumar said he was confident nothing would happen to Nagappa, despite the brigand’s threat. “I challenged Veerappan in the forest to shoot me and finish it. He said he had a different purpose in kidnapping me and once his demands were fulfilled, he would personally release me. So I am sure nothing will happen to Nagappa also.”

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu applauded the tough stand, saying both governments should have taken this line long ago. “I hope that the (two) governments would persist with strong actions against the brigand at least now,” he said.

Tamil Nadu police, however, seem to be in a fix over the “shoot-at-sight order”. While additional director-general of police (STF) Nataraj was quoted as saying that the task force had instructions to gun down the brigand, state DGP B.P. Nailwal, who reached the Sathyamangalam camp today, is yet to firm up a strategy to zero in on Veerappan without harming his hostage.

Although chief minister Jayalalithaa today ruled out sending an emissary or even considering amnesty for the poacher-turned-bandit, top police officials are treading with caution so that there is no backlash against Tamils in Karnataka, particularly in the border areas.

Nailwal, who returned from Delhi late last night, put the predicament in a nutshell before he left for Coimbatore en route to Sathyamangalam. Asked about the possibility of intensifying the anti-Veerappan drive at a time when Nagappa is still being held hostage, he said: “That is the issue we have to decide after detailed discussions.”

Speculation is rife that the banned Tamil National Liberation Army have regrouped with the brigand.

Nailwal, however, was categorical that there was no such development. “We do not have any such information and we believe that he (Veerappan) has very few people, say about seven to eight people with him now, I am told,” he said.

“We stand on the threshold of hopeful action,” he added.

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