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Indian managers in rebel clutches

Kakarvitta (Nepal), March 20: Maoist rebels made their foray into the hill kingdom's tea belt when they abducted two garden managers, both Indian nationals, and a Nepali office staff from two estates in Jhapa district on the border a week ago.

Eight days have passed since the three have been abducted, but they are still being held hostage by the kidnappers, who have reportedly put forth a three-point demand as a condition for their freedom.

While V.K. Rajpurohit, the manager of the Tokla tea estate in Kakarvitta, was abducted from his bungalow on March 12, the rebels had reportedly picked up Kamla Singh, the manager of Mittal tea estate in Bhadrapur, from his garden the following day. Raju Dewan, the head clerk of the Mittal estate, was also abducted on the same day.

Sitting in the front room of their garden bungalow, Rajpurohit's wife and daughter have fear writ large on their faces. 'We don't know anything...We are only praying for the safe return of my father,' said the daughter.

The Singhs, who live in Bagdogra, too, would have nothing to do with the media at the moment. Manoj Kumar Singh, reportedly a family friend of the Singhs, said: 'We have left the matter to the company, which owns the garden. Talk to them.'

Mohan Lal Agarwal, director, Mittal Tea Estate, said he had spoken to Singh two days ago. 'He told me that he is okay and was being treated well by his abductors... The abductors are very vague about their demands...,' he said.

While the management of both the gardens ruled out ransom as a reason, a source said the demand list included payment of 20 days' additional wages to workers, release of imprisoned leaders of Maoisist-affiliated unions, and implementation of the six-point agreement signed between the management and the unions in August 2005.

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