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Odisha crisis: Uncertainty over hostages' release

Orissa,Crime/Disaster/Accident,Terrorism, Sun, 08 Apr 2012 IANS

Bhubaneswar, April 8 (IANS) Odisha's efforts to secure the release of an Italian tour operator and a state legislator kidnapped by the Maoists last month plunged into uncertainty Sunday with the rebels failing to budge from their demands.


Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, whose group has been holding hostage tour operator Bosusco Paolo since March 14 said the government must clarify whether it was facilitating the release of all the seven people the Maoists wanted.


Besides, the rebel leader in an audio message which was received by some local television channels here, also asked the government to make its stand clear on the 13 demands the rebels had made earlier.


Panda's audio message came a day after authorities announced that they had come into some agreement with the rebel-backed mediators on various issues raised by the Maoists to secure the release of the Italian tour operator.


The three senior officials represented by the government and two Maoists backed mediators had also announced the end of their talks and had appealed the abductors to release the Italian unharmed.


On the other hand, the release of ruling Biju Janata Dal lawmaker Jhina Hikaka who is being held hostage by another group of rebels since March 24, is likely to be delayed as his abductors have insisted that the government release five more prisoners.


Jagabandhu, who claimed himself as the spokesperson of the group, in a statement written in Telugu said 28 prisoners from the district of Malkangiri and Koraput district should be released immediately.


He also said Hikaka's wife should come along with the prisoners to Balipeta village in Koraput district Tuesday to receive the legislator.


All these people should be brought along with other family members of the legislator, two Maoists-backed mediators Dandapani Mohanty and B.D. Sharma and lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik.


"There should be no involvement of police and intelligence wings in this process," he warned.


Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said although his government had concluded negotiations with the Maoist-backed mediators for the release of the Italian, "there seemed to be some confusion." He said it will be cleared soon.


He also said the government is examining the legal aspect of the demands made by the kidnappers of the legislator.


Paolo was abducted by the Odisha unit of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) from Kandhamal district. Hikaka was kidnapped by the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee from Koraput district.


Both the groups have been asking the government to fulfil 13 demands, including the ban on tourism in tribal areas, a halt on the state's operations against the Maoists, and the release of several prisoners.


They have set Tuesday as the deadline for the government to decide on their demands.


The state government had earlier announced to facilitate the release of 23 prisoners, including eight Maoists, to secure the release of the legislator and four others to secure the release of the Italian.


The kidnappers of the legislator and the Italians are now separately demanding the release of five and three prisoners, respectively, in addition to what the government has announced.


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