Fate of MLA and Italians remain unknown

Bhubaneswar: The fate of a tribal BJD MLA and two Italians held captive by Maoists in Odisha remained unknown today, a day after talks to end the hostage crisis were suspended and the mediators appointed by the ultras quit.

Though speculation was rife that the two Italians were released in Daringbadi area in Kandhamal district late on Saturday night, neither the administration nor the police had any information.

Police teams were positioned at some places, including Daringbadi square, the entire night after media reports that the Italians were being released, but there was no confirmation that the hostages were freed, sub-divisional Police Officer of Baliguda Satyajit Nayak said.

Though there was no information about the release of Italians, the administration was alert and ready for any such development, Baliguda sub-collector B S Punia said.

While 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka was abducted by armed Maoists in Koraput district at 1:00 AM on Saturday, the two Italians – Puri based tour operator Paolo Basusco and tourist Claudio Colangelo – were kidnapped in Kandhamal district on March 14.

The state government made a fresh review of the situation at a high-level meeting, particularly after suspension of talks with Maoist mediators in view of the MLA`s abduction near Toyaput district in Koraput district and killing of a police sub-inspector in Malkangiri district, sources said.

The abduction of the ruling BJD legislator compounded the woes of the state government already struggling to resolve the 11-day Italian hostage crisis. .

The chief minister sent two minisers, S N Patro and Lal Bihari Himirika to Laxmipur after the kidnap of the tribal legislator.

A declaration was made by Maoists through posters that the MLA would be held hostage till the demands for halt to anti-Maoist operations by security forces, accepted after the release of the then Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna in February, 2011 were fulfilled.

After suspension of talks on Saturday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the two maoist mediators, B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, made fresh appeals to the ultras to release the MLA and two Italians on humanitarian grounds.

Voicing concern over the abrupt halt to negotiations between the Odisha government and the Maoist-nominated mediators, Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori has said he was hopeful of a positive solution, but nothing could be said at the moment.

Melchiori who has been camping here since the Italian nationals were taken hostage, said Italian government was concerned about the safety of its nationals.

The chief minister spoke to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Saturday and briefed him about the situation.

During the telephonic talk, Chidambaram asked the chief minister whether the state needed any assistance from the Centre to deal with the situation, but Patnaik did not seek any help.

State Chief Secretary B K Patnaik also called up Union Home Secretary R K Singh.

The abduction of the tribal legislator, a popular figure in Laxmipur area, led local residents to demonstrate and block roads demanding his immediate release. A rail roko for the same reason was also staged by the people in neighbouring Rayagada district.