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Italian hostages: Negotiator doubts govt sincerity

Bhubaneswar: A day after the Maoists named three negotiators to talk to the state government on the Italian hostage crisis, one of them showed reluctance to join the process today voicing doubts over sincerity of the administration towards meeting the 13 demands of the ultras.

Civil rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, one of the negotiators, said, "Past experience shows the state government has failed to keep its word. It will be pointless to be part of talks if the government backtracks later."

Apart from Kanungo, the Maoists had on Monday night nominated Narayan Sanyal, politburo member of the CPI (Maoist) currently lodged in Giridih jail, and civil rights activist Dandapani Mohanty as their representatives to hold talks with the government to end the six-day hostage crisis.

Kanungo said he was reluctant to act as interlocutor because the mediators who negotiated during abduction of the then Malkangiri collector last year had accused the government of failing to implement the demands it had accepted. Moreover, no one had consulted me before nominating me as a nogiation, he said.

Besides naming the negotiators, the Maoists announced a ceasefire and set a fresh deadline till this evening for acceptance of 13 demands including withdrawal of cases against the ultras and release of some rebels. The move came in response to the state government`s offer for talks to end the crisis.

The names of the negotiators chosen by Maoists had been conveyed through the media and now the state government`s response was awaited, Mohanty, convenor of Jana Adhikar Manch, said.

On the state government`s response, a senior official said the matter was being examined and a clear picture would emerge very soon. The development was seen as a positive sign towards resolution of the crisis.

Puri-based tour operator Paolo Bosusco and Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo were abducted while trekking in Kandhamal on March 14.

Selection of mediators by the kidnappers came shortly after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the red rebels to nominate their representatives without any further delay and announced halt to the coercive action by security personnel if the Maoists stop violence.

The Maoists have extended their deadline, which had ended on Sunday evening, till this evening for acceptance of their demands including an immediate halt to the combing operation by security forces and release of their leaders and some tribals, said Mohanty.

Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi spoke yesterday to his Indian counterpart S M Krishna who assured him that the Odisha government was taking all steps to secure the duo`s early release. "There will be no coercive action by security forces as long as the Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) does not indulge in any violence and other unlawful activities," the chief minister had told the state Assembly last evening in the wake of the opposition alleging failure in tackling the situation.

Patnaik also invoked humanitarian aspect to urge the ultras to free the foreigners in view of concerns expressed by their families in the cities of Rome and Turin in Italy.

The Italians were taken hostage on March 14 but the Maoists had reported it late on March 17 through the media. The two Italians had driven down from Puri and entered a forested area inspite of being warned by the Daringibadi police about the presence of Maoists. A driver and cook who were accompanying them and their vehicle were released by the Maoists subsequently.

A report from Puri said that the driver, Kartik Parida, and cook, Santosh, were interrogated by the police. Saying that tribals were not `objects` of tourist amusement, the Maoists demanded arrest of the persons involved in taking objectionable photographs of the `adivasis`.

They also demanded a halt to the "green hunt" operation, lifting of ban on CPI (Maoist) and its sister outfits, action against erring police personnel involved in `fake encounters`, release of Subhasree Das (wife of Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda), Gananath Patra and other tribals arrested on the charge of being part of Maoist groups.

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