- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

MADRAS, India — A senior police officer in the south Indian state of Karnataka has suggested that security forces should call off their 15-year hunt for Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, India’s most-wanted fugitive, sought in connection with more than 140 killings of policemen, forest wardens and their informers in the past three decades. H.T. Sangliana, who for many years was in charge of the special task force hunting the forest bandit, said on his retirement day this month that the manhunt was futile and the pursuers were groping in the dark. “He is a creature of the forest and knows where to hide. It is virtually impossible to ferret him out of the forest, which has been his kitchen garden for so many years,” said Mr. Sangliana, who was considered one of the most popular police officers in India. Mr. Sangliana said that the best option for the government would be to call off the hunt for Veerappan and take steps to facilitate his surrender. “To [Chief Minister of Karnataka] S.M. Krishna and even to his predecessor, I gave the same advice. To both, I explained why the capture of Veerappan was a difficult task,” said Mr. Sangliana. The retired policeman said the density of the forests, intelligence failures and noncooperation from the villagers were the key reasons behind the special task force’s failure to catch the suspect. Operating in the forests between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Veerappan has eluded the law for nearly 30 years — protected by grateful villagers who consider him a folk hero. It is said that many politicians who purportedly profit from his smuggling secretly help the bandit’s network. Veerappan, who claims the Latin American guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara as his role model, is said to provides employment to poor villagers smuggling sandalwood trees and ivory. Financing weddings and medical expenses of poor people and rescuing them from the clutches of local money lenders adds to his aura as a local Robin Hood. Last year, the special task force installed 60 boxes in the forests for people to drop off clues about Veerappan’s whereabouts. Despite the posting of a reward worth about $65,000 for information leading to the outlaw’s capture, Mr. Sangliana said, data was hard to come by because villagers fear him as much as they hold him in awe. “The hunt has proved to be a big waste of time and manpower. Even in another 15 years, the government cannot catch him. The authorities should initiate negotiations to secure his surrender instead,” said Mr. Sangliana. Since the late 1980s, the government has spent nearly $50 million hunting him. Armed with assault rifles and machine guns, night-vision goggles, global positioning system equipment and helicopters, the police, special task force personnel and paramilitary troops have scoured the forests without success. The 58-year-old Veerappan, who killed his first elephant at age 10, is accused of poaching 2,000 elephants over the last four decades and smuggling ivory worth $2.6 million and sandalwood worth $22 million. In recent years, Veerappan has taken to kidnapping for ransom. Three years ago, he kidnapped the elderly Karnataka film star Rajkumar and kept him prisoner in the jungle for more than three months. Rajkumar was released after officials secretly paid a ransom worth about $800,000. Last year, Veerappan kidnapped Hannur Nagappa, 66, a former Karnataka minister. Veerappan accused him of being behind the death of the his brother, Arjunan. Mr. Nagappa was found dead three months later. Last week, tourist resorts located on the fringes of the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks in Karnataka received notices from local police advising them not to accept foreigners as guests. They said they had information that Veerappan planned to kidnap Western tourists and hold them for large ransoms. “If Veerappan is on the prowl, police cannot guarantee the safety of his targets. So they chose to send us this notice,” said the manager of a forest resort near Bandipur National Park.

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