CM appeals Maoists to release Italian tourists

Bhubaneswar: Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik today appealed to the Maoists to release the two abducted Italian tourists in Ganjam district bordering Kandhamal and said that the government was open to "any kind of negotiation under the law". "I appeal to the Left-wing extremists to immediately release the foreign tourists on humanitarian ground. Odisha government is open to any kind of negotiation with the kidnappers under the law," he said. The chief minister said that the state government has informed the Ministries of External Affairs and Home Affairs about the incident.

"I reiterate my appeal to the Left-wing extremists not to take any drastic step. I also condemn this heinous crime. No one will condone this kind of act in a civil society," Patnaik said. The Italian Consul General is likely to arrive in Bhubaneswar this evening in the wake of the abduction and will review the situation with the state government, official sources said. Chief Secretary B K Patnaik said two Italian tourists, Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo, who were on a trekking tour on the Ganjam-Kandhamal border, were abducted by Maoists on Saturday. They had come from Puri by a vehicle and had ventured into the forested area despite being warned of the Maoist menace by the Daringibadi police station, he said.

They were accompanied by a driver and a cook, Patnaik said, adding that the Maoists, however, released the two along with the vehicle. The Maoists, who claimed reaponsibility for the abduction of the foreign tourists through some private news channels around midnight last, however, said the kidnapping had taken place on March 14. In their communication to the TV channels, the Maoists claimed that the foreigners were taken hostage while allegedly taking objectionable photographs of tribals in interior areas despite a ban by the state government on such activities.

When asked whether any steps were being taken to halt combing operations against the Maoists, the chief secretary told reporters that the government would wait for the response of the Maoists to the chief minister`s appeal before taking any steps for the release of the foreigners. Meanwhile, a report from Puri said that the driver, Kartik Parida and the cook, Santosh, who had since returned to the temple town, were being interrogated by the police. The Maoists have reportedly put forward a 13-point charter of demands for release of the hostages. The conditions include halt to anti-Naxal operations, withdrawal of cases against tribal people lodged in jails `in the name of Maoists` and implementation of the `agreement` with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year, sources said.

Dandapani Mohanty, Convener of the Jana Adhikar Manch, and one of the mediators who negotiated with the government to secure release of the abducted Malkanagiri collector last year, has also appealed to the Maoists not to set any deadline for fulfilment of their demands. The Maoists had abducted the then Malkanagiri collector R Veenel Krishan along with a junior engineer from a remote area in Malkanagiri in February last year. The two were released after the government arrived at an agreement with the three mediators, one from Odisha and two from Andhra Pradesh.