Indian Maoist rebels in the east of the country threatened to kill three captured policemen on Friday unless the local government agreed to release seven left-wing prisoners.
On Thursday, the rebels claimed they had executed a fourth captive, Kumar Yadav, a sub-inspector, after trying him in a “people’s court” in the impoverished eastern state of Bihar.
“We killed him and warned the state government to release our comrades by 10:00am (0430 GMT) on Friday morning. Failing this we will kill all three policemen,” Maoist spokesman Avinash told local Hindi TV news channels on Thursday evening.
Bihar police chief Neelmani denied that Yadav had been murdered, however, telling reporters: “All four abducted policemen are safe.”
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, widely credited with improving the fortunes of deeply deprived Bihar, is seen as having a different approach to tackling India’s Maoist menace.
Kumar has favoured dialogue and development over a hardline strategy of trying to crush the rebel movement, which has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India’s biggest internal security threat.
Authorities in New Delhi launched a major offensive last year to tackle the worsening insurgency, but since then the Maoists have hit back with repeated strikes against police and paramilitary forces.
The policemen were abducted during a raid on Sunday that left 10 other officers dead.