Talks on Italian hostage crisis resume
Bhubaneswar: After a day`s break, talks resumed between the government and Maoist negotiators for release of the Italian captive while the state Assembly unanimously appealed to the kidnappers of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka to free him. The appeal comes a day before the deadline fixed by the ultras expires.
Home Secretary U N Behera led a three-member team of government representatives in the talks with Maoist-named mediators B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty.
Fresh talks to resolve the Italian hostage crisis began on Monday night after a threat from Secretary of Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) Sabyasachi Panda, whose organisation claimed to have abducted Paolo Bosusco on March 14, that the hostage might be harmed if any action was launched. "We may take the extreme step if the government launches an offensive to release the hostage," Panda said in an audio message released to the media, demanding immediate release of seven jailed rebels, including his wife Subhashree Das alias Mili Panda. However, negotiations could not be held on Tuesday as one of the Maoist-nominated mediators was away from Bhubaneswar for a day, official sources said.
With a day left for the April 5 deadline set by the abductors of the Laxmipur legislator, the Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution appealing to the Maoists to release the MLA immediately unharmed. "This house expresses deep concern over the abduction of the MLA by Maoists. We unanimously appeal to Maoists to release the MLA immediately unharmed," the resolution moved by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said.
The resolution was adopted after Congress legislator Dambarudhar Ulaka voiced concern about Hikaka`s fate as the deadline set by Maoists ends tomorrow and there was no news on the extension of the deadline despite the government`s appeal.
The government on Tuesday appealed to Hikaka`s abductors to extend the April 5 deadline and invited Nachika Linga, president of Maoist-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh for negotiation, even as the rebels rejected the offer. Inviting Linga for negotiation, Patnaik said, "Our government is prepared to hold discussion on the release of certain CMAS members as per their demands." Indicating the government was ready to free some rebels in exchange for the 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA, Patnaik said, "I have often requested Maoists to begin negotiations urgently for the release of the MLA." However, the state government received a message from the rebels that they are not prepared to negotiate, he said.
Though Linga, who has been on the run since 2009, had shown willingness to join talks on certain conditions, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoist) (AOBSZC) in an audio message to the media today rejected proposal for talks and set April five as the deadline. Patnaik`s statement came hours after AOBSZC asked the Odisha government to fulfil its demands including release of jailed rebels latest by April five.
Meanwhile, a letter purportedly written by Hikaka to the chief minister was released to the media which said he was safe and pleaded that tribals lodged in jails on the charge of being Maoists be freed soon so that he could be released unharmed. "Since I am a tribal, steps for safety of my life are not being considered seriously," the letter bearing Hikaka`s name said, adding if quick steps are not taken for his release he would be unable to work for development of his area. "If necessary, I will be forced to resign," it said.
Abductors of the Italian also accused the government of adopting a dilly-dallying approach to their demands and also planning an operation to free the hostage. The government will be responsible if something wrong happens to the Italian," maoist leader Panda said in an audio tape.
Besides his wife, Subhasree, Panda sought release of Maoists Arati Majhi, Kamala Kanta Sethi, Jonesh Pradhan, Sujatha, Suka Nachika and Gananath Patra. Panda`s wife also appealed to the ultras not to harm the hostage. "I appeal to Maoists not to harm the hostage," she said in Rayagada district. "Please do not harm the MLA. He hails from a tribal family and works for the welfare of tribals," Subhasree said adding like the Maoists, Hikaka was also working for tribals.
Hikaka was abducted by Maoists in Koraput district on March 24, while Bosusco (54) and Claudio Colangelo (61) were taken hostage on March 14 during trekking in tribal-dominated Kandhamal district. The Maoists had on March 25 released Colangelo as a "goodwill gesture".