Maoists will 'not harm' kidnapped Indian officials

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

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Mediators trying to secure the release of two Indian officials held by the Maoists say the rebels have assured them that no harm will be done to them.

R Vineel Krishna, district collector of Malkangiri in the eastern state of Orissa, and engineer Pabitra Majhi were kidnapped on Wednesday evening.

The government has halted an offensive against the rebels, a demand they made after kidnapping the officials.

The Maoists have also demanded the release of rebels held in prisons.

The rebels have nominated two academics to talk to the government about the terms for release of the officials.

"It has been assured by the mediators that no harm shall be caused to Mr Krishna and Mr Majhi," Orissa Home Secretary UN Behera said after a round of talks with the negotiators.

"It has been agreed that Maoists shall not cause any untoward incident that may vitiate the peace process," he said.

The Maoists have demanded that seven top leaders who are in prison be freed in exchange for the two officials.

Separately, the government's efforts to release two of them, Sriramulu Srinivas and K Padma, received a setback with a local court rejecting their bail applications.

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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