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Kidnapped Indian Actor Appears

November 16, 2000

BANGALORE, India (AP) _ An Indian movie star held captive for three months by a notorious outlaw added to the mystery Thursday by saying he knew nothing about any ransom and that the son of a former state police director helped negotiate his freedom.

Rajkumar was mobbed by screaming fans who overran an airfield and threw garlands around his neck when he appeared in public Thursday for the first time since his release.

Comparing him to a god, some climbed over a car to shake his hand or throw garlands around his neck. Crowds lined the roads, set off firecrackers and tried to storm a state government building when Rajkumar went inside.

``When I left the jungles and saw the roads and the people and buses, I wondered whether it was a dream or reality,″ he said.

The actor, 72, was kidnapped from his vacation home July 30 and released Tuesday night. He said he knew nothing about a ransom.

But an intelligence official told The Associated Press that two state governments _ Tamil Nadu and Karnataka _ had split a $2.17 million ransom that was delivered to the bandit, Veerappan, to secure Rajkumar’s release.

The actor, who like many people in southern India, Rajkumar uses one name, said his hands were tied behind his back with rope after one of the three men kidnapped with him escaped.

``I said, ’You can shoot me, but let the others go because I can’t stand this,‴ Rajkumar said. He said Veerappan then untied him.

``He was very human. Otherwise it would not have been possible to come out,″ Rajkumar said.

Veerappan has eluded police for 30 years, accused of killing more than 300 policemen and forest officers, slaughtering 2,000 elephants and smuggling millions of dollars worth of ivory and sandalwood. Most of those crimes were committed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states.

Rajkumar’s release was negotiated by Nedumaran, a man with links to Tamil rebels in neighboring Sri Lanka.

Veerappan has links with Tamil separatists in India and Sri Lanka, a stand that is popular with the large Tamil population and some politicians in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states.

Rajkumar confirmed that three other people, including the son of the former police director in Karnataka state, had come to Veerappan’s jungle hide-out and talked to the bandit before his release was secured.

The former police director, Ramalinga, told the AP that his son used business interests to make contact with Veerappan, who is believed to have business and political ties in the region.

Karnataka Chief Minister Somanahalli Krishna, who flew by helicopter to meet Rajkumar, said details about the release were a ``mystery″ but suggested the bandit had simply gotten tired of holding the actor.

Rajkumar has a fanatic following in Karnataka state, where his starring role in 210 Kannada-language movies has made him a cult hero.

There were riots when he was kidnapped, and the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments faced great public pressure to expedite his release. Elected leaders tried to meet Veerappan’s demands by freeing from prison 56 accused criminals, but the Supreme Court stopped the process earlier this month.

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