Maoists name 3 persons for talks with govt

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi: Maoists on Monday night named three negotiators to talk to the state government on the Italian hostage crisis even as they set a fresh 24-hour deadline for acceptance of 13 demands including withdrawal of cases against the ultras.

Responding to state government`s offer for talks to end the five-day long hostage crisis, the left-wing extremists named Narayan Sanyal, Politburo member of CPI (Maoist) currently lodged in Giridih jail, and civil rights activists Dandapani Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo as their representatives.

"Three of us have been nominated by the kidnappers to hold negotiation with Odisha government for safe release of the two Italian hostages," said Mohanty, who was also one of the three mediators during talks with the government after abduction of the then Malkangiri collector last year.

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 (JAM), said.

The development was seen as a positive sign towards resolution of the crisis since Puri-based tour operator Paolo Bosusco and Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo were abducted while trekking in Kandhamal on March 14.

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

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

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi spoke to his Indian counterpart S M Krishna who assured him that the Odisha government was taking all steps to secure their early release.

On his part Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made a fresh appeal to the Maoists to release the hostages immediately and see that they are unharmed. "There will be no coercive action by security forces as long as Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) does not indulge in any violence and other unlawful activities," the chief minister told the state assembly in the wake of the opposition alleging failure in tackling the situation.

Patnaik also invoked humatarian 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.

Meanwhile, Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori for the second consecutive day met the home secretary apprising his government`s concern over the development. "We are hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon," Melchiori told reporters.

"A pamphlet in the name of `Sunil`, Secretary of Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist), containing 13 their demands has been received and is being examined", Patnaik said.

The Italians were taken hostage on March 14 but the Maoists had reported it late on March 17 through the media. Bosusco has been staying in India for the last 19 years in Puri and was running a travel agency named `Odisha Adventurous Trekking` which has been organising trips to different parts of the state for tourists, while Colangelo was a tourist from Italy, Patnaik added.

The two Italians had driven down from Puri and entered a forested area inspite of being warned by Daringibadi police about 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 police.

Stating 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 halt to "green hunt" operation, lifting of ban on CPI(Maoist) and its sister organisations, 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 charge of being part of the Maoist groups.

"A pamphlet in the name of `Sunil`, Secretary of Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist), containing 13 of their demands has been received and is being examined", the chief minister said.

In the Assembly, the Opposition slammed the Odisha government and wanted to know under what circumstances one of the the Italians has been staying in Puri for nearly two decades and running a travel agency.

Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh asked the government to inform the people about the status of passport and visa of the two Italians, particularly Bosusco.

The senior Congress leader sought to know whether there were any restrictions for foreign nationals in visiting certain places in Kandhamal district from where the two were abducted.

BJP leader K V Singhdeo also lashed out at the state government accusing it of failing to implement security guidelines prepared after the kidnap of Malkangiri district collector by R V Krishna by Maoists last year.