Maoists yet to respond to govt negotiation offer
"The state government is yet to receive a response from the abductors of the two Italians. The chief minister has made it clear that we are open to any kind of negotiation under the law," Home Secretary U N Behera said.
Though the deadline set by the abductors for their 13-point demands including immediate halt to combing operations and release of some leaders and tribals ended last evening, it was presumed to have been extended, a senior official said.
Indicating that the government was adopting a wait and watch approach, he said, "Since the government has made an offer of talks the deadline is understood to have been extended. A response from the kidnappers is awaited."
Though there were reports that combing operations in Maoist-hit areas by the security forces had been halted, the home secretary said no formal order has been issued for stopping them. The situation was being monitored constantly by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and top officials to resolve the hostage crisis and ensure their release, sources said.
The Italians, Bosusco Paolo, a tour operator in Puri and tourist Claudio Colangelo, were trekking along the Ganjam-Kandhamal border, when they were kidnapped by Maoists on Saturday. They had driven down from Puri and had entered a forested area inspite of being warned by the 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 being questioned by the police.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had spoken to the chief minister who briefed him on the efforts being made to secure the release of the hostages. The Ministry of External Affairs was in touch with Italy and was keeping it informed about latest developments.
Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori was in Bhubaneswar and had discussed the issue with state authorities. The Italian envoy had said that he was hopeful that the kidnappers would accept the the chief minister`s appeal to release the hostages.
The Maoists told TV channels that the foreigners were taken hostage for taking "objectionable" photographs of tribals in interior areas despite a ban by the state government on such activities.
The 13 demands put forward by the Maoists include halt to anti-Maoist operations, withdrawal of cases against tribals jailed on the charge of being Maoists and implementation of the agreement struck with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year.