Indian officials released by anti-steel plant group


Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 11

Two Indian officials were released unharmed early yesterday after being held hostage for 10 hours by activists who oppose expansion plans by the South Korean steel company they work for, police said.

The officials, who work for the South Korea-based Posco, the world's third largest steel-maker, were kidnapped on Friday by villagers concerned that the company's plan to build a steel plant in the eastern state of Orissa would displace thousands of people.

"They were released hours after midnight," Deputy Superintendent of Police S.K. Upadhaya said.

"No harm has come to them, but they are being examined by doctors," Upadhaya said.

Three Posco officials had traveled to the village of Gobindapur to meet with farmers about acquiring land when they were kidnapped.

One of the three officials, a woman, was released soon after being taken hostage, but the two others were kept by the group for 10 hours.

Abhay Sahu, the president of an activist group dedicated to fighting the Posco project, had said the hostages would not be released until the company pledged it would not develop the site, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

But they were released after the villagers received assurances from Posco that the company's staff would not enter their village, PTI quoted Sahu as saying.

Posco's steel plant -- which would be the largest single foreign investment in India -- was approved by the Indian government last year as a special economic zone, making it eligible for tax breaks and exempt from some government duties.

Posco has said it will invest about US$10.8 billion to build the plant and develop the area.

Many residents are strongly opposed to the project because they say it would require the displacement of about 20,000 people.

Police said the Posco officials had been warned by residents not to enter their villages without permission, but the three did not heed the warning.