Bhubaneswar, March 23 (IANS) Discussions to secure the safe release of two Italians kidnapped by Maoists over a week ago in Odisha's Kandhamal district were progressing and the issue of a top rebel leader's presence had been resolved, officials said Friday. Talks will continue Saturday.
Two Maoists interlocutors and three officials representing the government discussed, for several hours, the 13 demands the rebels have placed for the release of the hostages.
A senior government official who was part of the negotiation process said the talks have made some progress but no conclusion has been arrived yet.
About the rebels insisting about the presence of a top Maoist leader as their third mediator, he said the officials have managed to resolve that issue. "They have agreed to proceed without third negotiator," the official, who did not want to be identified, told IANS.
B.D. Sharma, one of the interlocutors chosen by the Maoists, said the issue may get resolved by Saturday evening.
Responding to a question that if they were still insisting the participation of a top jailed Maoist leader in the negotiation, he said: "It is not at the agenda right now."
The Maoist mediators asserted that the hostages were safe. Responding to a question about when the Italians will be released, Sharma said: "I cannot say it now".
The Italians Bosusco Paolo, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61 were abducted from the border of Ganjam and communally sensitive Kandhamal district March 14.
The 13 demands the rebels have set for their release include a ban on the visit of tourists to the tribal areas; halt on anti Maoist operations, and release of several prisoners.
The three senior officials representing the government are state Home Secretary U.N. Behera, Panchayati Raj Secretary P.K. Jena and Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Development Secretary Santosh Sarangi.
The Maoists mediators are social activist Dandapani Mohanty and tribal expert and ex-Indian Administrative Service officer Sharma.
Meanwhile, people from a cross-section of society Friday carried out processions and marches in different parts of the state to protest the abduction and to seek early release of the hostages.
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