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Hostage crisis: Maoists message leads to uncertainty

Bhubaneswar: The release of Italian hostage Paolo Bosusco, abducted over three weeks ago, today ran into rough weather with the Maoists asking state government to first "clarify" how many ultras would be set free and how many of its 13 demands would be met.

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda in a fresh audio message to the media claimed that the release of seven persons had been sought but the government had earlier agreed to release six. But on Saturday, it said it would free five.

"This has created suspicion and the government should make clear how many prisoners are going to be released along with their names," Panda, who is the secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI-Maoists, said.

Panda also demanded that the government clarify how many of his group`s 13 demands were accepted. He also questioned the ban imposed on `mass organisations`.

Following the Maoist leader`s message, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held an emergency meeting here.

"There seems to be some confusion. Government negotiators and Maoist-appointed mediators had come to a clear conclusion on Saturday. I do hope all these will be cleared by them soon," he told reporters after the meeting.

Patnaik said Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte had again called him and expressed deep concern about Bosusco.

Referring to the demands by other Maoist group holding BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage to free five more of its people, Patnaik said the legal issues involved were being examined by the government.

The group has extended the deadline for meeting its demands to April 10 for the release of the 37 year-old legislator.

Stating that the government had announced release of prisoners as a humanitarian gesture, the chief minister asked both Maoist groups to reciprocate and release Hikaka and Bosusco.

A senior official said, "It is surprising that the Maoists have raised new questions about their demands even after their own mediators agreed to all points discussed during negotiations and signed the joint statement on Saturday.

"Panda should not have any doubt as everything is in black and white," he said adding that government had never agreed to release six persons as claimed by Panda.

Last night, Home Secretary U N Behera had said that the fortnight-long negotiations for the release of the Italian had ended and an agreement had been reached.

The joint statement on Saturday said the mediators had given six names – Arati Majhi, Manmohan Pradhan, Suka Nachika, Chakra Tadingi, Bijay Tadingi and Subhashree Das of whom five would be released.

Bosusco, a Puri-based tour operator, was abducted with another Italian Claudio Colangelo on March 14 while they were trekking in tribal dominated Kandhamal district.

Colangelo was freed on March 25 as a goodwill gesture by the ultras while Bosusco continued to remain in Maoist captivity.

Hikaka was abducted in Koraput district on March 24 while he returning home to Laxmipur.

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