Maoists offer to release one kidnapped Italian

Bhubaneswar: The Maoists today offered to release one of the two Italians held captive by them if two of their demands, including release of some rebels, were met, as the Odisha government asked its mediators to contact their counterparts chosen by the captors.

"One of the Italians taken hostage can be set free if the state government accepts two of our demands even before start of negotiations," a senior leader of the Odisha State Organising Committee of Maoists told a private TV channel. One of the two demands is immediate release of five ultras, including Subhashree Das, wife of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, and Gananatha Patra, the leader said. The ultras, who have encountered problems in finding negotiators for holding talks with the government, also sought action against police officials allegedly involved in fake encounters and rape.

The state government on its part asked the three IAS officers named by it for negotiating with the ultras to contact former bureaucrat and social activist B D Sharma who is among those nominated by Maoists for talks.

The Italians-Puri-based tour operator Paolo Bosusco and tourist Claudio Colangelo-were abducted while trekking in Kandhamal district on March 14.

The Maoists had initially nominated politburo member of CPI (Maoist) Narayan Sanyal, currently lodged in Giridih jail, and civil rights activists Dandapani Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo as negotiators. However, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik voiced objection to Sanyal`s choice on the ground that he was a lifer and was also undergoing jail terms for other offences, while Kanungo himself was reluctant to take part in the parleys.

Following this, the Maoists named civil rights activist Prafulla Samantara and social activist and retired bureaucrat B D Sharma as the new negotiators. Samantara, has, however declined to negotiate saying, "I doubt if the government will accept my nomination and I have no faith in the government.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik last night announced that the three negotiators to represent the state government would be Principal Secretary (Home) U N Behera, Panchayatiraj Secretary P K Jena and Secretary in ST and SC Department S K Sarangi.

The Maoists appeared to be struggling in finding mediators as two persons named by them declined to join the talks and another one was rejected by the government. Under these circumstances, it was not clear as to when the talks on the demands made by the Maoists could begin to secure safe release of the two hostages, an official said.

The state government has come under attack from the opposition parties alleging failure of the intelligence system as the incident came to light through the media four days after the foreigners were abducted by Maoists. Leader of Opposition in state Assembly Bhupinder Singh said though the kidnapping took place on March 14, the state government came to know about the incident only on March 17 through media. "It shows the whole intelligence network in the state had collapsed," the senior Congress leader said.

Singh and Congress chief whip in the Assembly Prasad Harichandan also sought to know under what circumstances one of the abducted Italians had been staying in Puri for the last 19 years and running a travel agency. They wanted to know the passport and visa status of the hostages.the Congress leaders hit out at the government for remaining silent on these queries.