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India's Bandit Threatens to Kill Ex-Minister - 2002-08-27

India's most wanted fugitive is threatening to kill a prominent regional politician he is alleged to have kidnapped Sunday. The case is raising political and ethnic tensions in India.

The kidnapping case allegedly involving India's most-wanted fugitive Veerappan and former Karnataka state minister H. Naggappa has taken a chilling turn.

Police in the Karnataka capital, Bangalore say a cassette listing the kidnappers' alleged demands also contains a threat to behead H. Naggappa, if the demands are not met. They include the release of two Tamil activists held by the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu on terrorism charges.

Mr. Naggappa, a leader of the centrist People's Party, and his bodyguard were seized late Sunday. The politician's family has identified Veerappan as the man who carried out the abduction at Mr. Naggappa's rural home about 200 kilometers south of Bangalore.

Two years ago Veerappan allegedly kidnapped and then released prominent film actor Rajkumar. He was held for more than 100 days and media reports say his release followed a ransom payment of about $4 million, a payment the actor's family denies making.

Touring Karnataka, India's Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani condemned the kidnapping and pledged central government support to bring it to an end.

"If any request is made to the center for assistance in terms of men and material the center will have no hesitation in giving it," he said. "That lawbreakers of this kind should be active and should continue to indulge in such heinous crimes with impunity is a matter of concern not merely for the states concerned, but for the whole country."

Veerappan is an alleged ivory and sandalwood smuggler. He is accused of involvement in more than 100 murders, including the killing of about 30 local officials, mostly game wardens and local law enforcement officers.

The fugitive has eluded capture for years, hiding out in the dense jungle forests that straddle the borders between the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The alleged kidnapper is an ethnic Tamil and the case is raising tensions in the area. Since the kidnapping of H. Naggappa there have been scattered disturbances in Karnataka where Tamils make up a sizable minority.

Political tensions in the area are also on the rise, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu has accused her counterpart in Karnataka of not doing enough to try to catch the kidnappers, a charge Karnataka's leaders deny.