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LAHORE: The Chotoo gang released a few of the two dozen hostage policemen on Sunday and demanded a safe passage in return for the release of the remaining hostages.

A well-placed source, however, told Dawn that the demand that also included the release of the family of the ringleader of the Chotoo gang was rejected and the gangster was given a final warning to surrender along with his accomplices.

The gangsters have been holed up in an island in the River Indus as army troops, including Special Services Group (SSG) commandos, and law enforcement agencies intensified their deployment around the troubled area to minimise the chance of their escape.

The source said that the gangsters left their forward positions and retreated into the dense forest when the security forces marched towards the island.

The source said that the SSG commandos had been given a green light to launch a decisive operation in the early hours of Monday morning.

A state of emergency has been declared in hospitals in Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan.

On Sunday, after intense shelling through Cobra helicopters and use of drone cameras and satellite technology for the surveillance of the area, the security forces moved forward and army commandos used smoke grenades to reach the criminals’ hideouts.

The source, however, did not provide any further details about the policemen, or their number, released by the Chotoo gang.

Six ‘facilitators’ arrested in Rajanpur

The source said that security agencies also picked up six Baloch sardars in Rajanpur district for allegedly backing the Chotoo gang and other criminals.

The held sardars were believed to be the ‘major facilitators’ and categorised as ‘black’.

He said that some local parliamentarians would also be ‘grilled’ for their alleged links with the Chotoo gang.

In Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab police chief Mustaq Ahmed Sukhera told a press conference that over 100 ‘facilitators’ of the Chotoo gang had been arrested.

He said that a list of police officers who had allegedly facilitated the notorious criminals had also been prepared and they would face an exemplary punishment if found involved.

He said that the safe release of the hostage policemen was the top priority of police.

The police chief claimed that the operation against Chotoo gang was launched after careful planning. The policemen taking part in the operation had been given special six-week training for the purpose, he said.

About a lack of weapons, he said that the police were fighting with maximum ammunition and all the allegations in this regard were baseless.

Answering questions about the relations of some politicians belonging to the ruling party with the Chotoo gang, Mr Sukhera said that no politician was on the list of facilitators.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2016