India halts anti-Maoist assault in Orissa after kidnap

R Vineel Krishna Mr Krishna was on his way to inspect a government project when he was seized

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The government in the eastern Indian state of Orissa has halted an offensive against Maoist rebels after they abducted a senior official.

R Vineel Krishna, district collector of Malkangiri, and another official were kidnapped on Wednesday evening.

The Maoists have demanded the release of rebels held in prisons and an end to the offensive by security forces.

Indian forces are battling Maoists in several states. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poor.

Orissa's Home Secretary UN Behura said the government was "stopping all combing operations in the state" and was ready to talk to the rebels.

Reports said the state government had contacted leading social worker Swami Agnivesh to negotiate with the rebels to secure Mr Krishna's release.

The Maoists' 48-hour deadline to the government to release rebels held in prison expires on Friday evening.

Correspondents say the deadline is likely to be extended in view of the government's efforts to talk to the rebels.

Malkangiri is among the districts worst affected by Maoist violence in India.

The hilly and forested terrain make it an ideal place for Maoists to run their camps there and launch operations against security forces.

Mr Krishna, 30, is a graduate from the premier Indian Institute of Technology and joined the civil service in 2005. He was appointed to head Malkangiri district 16 months ago.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India's biggest internal security challenge.

A government offensive against the rebels - widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt - began in October 2009.

It involves 50,000 troops and is taking place across five states - West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

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