Maoist rebels free Ital­ian hostage as good­will gesture; 2 still held

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY SU­JOY DHAR

BHUBANESWAR, IN­DIA | Maoist rebels in the east­ern state of Odisha freed an Ital­ian hostage Sun­day af­ter 11 days of cap­tiv­ity, but the rebels con­tin­ued to hold an­other Ital­ian and an In­dian law­maker whom they kid­napped early Satur­day.

The Maoists re­leased Ital­ian tourist Clau­dio Colan­gelo a small group of re­porters who had trekked to the rebels’ hide­out in the forested hills of Odisha’s Kandhmal dis­trict. The re­porters es­corted him to a po­lice sta­tion.

The for­mer hostage said his kid­nap­pers had treated him well. “They were ex­tremely kind with us, even the kids [young sol­diers],” he said.

Still be­ing held were Boscusco Polo, an Ital­ian tourism busi­ness owner who was kid­napped March 14, and lo­cal law­maker Jhina Hikaka, a mem­ber of the rul­ing Biju Janata Dal party who was taken early Satur­day. Their where­abouts were un­known Sun­day.

A Maoist leader said the rebels freed Mr. Colan­gelo as a good­will gesture.

“The hostages are safe. But the tribal area should not be a spot for tourism,” said Sabyasachi Panda, whose group had ab­ducted the Ital­ians to barter for the re­lease of their jailed co­horts.

Last Mon­day, the Maoists is­sued a list of de­mands for free­ing the Ital­ians, in­clud­ing the re­lease of sev­eral po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and three se­nior lead­ers from jails and pris­ons around the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to a copy of the list ob­tained by The Washington Times. One of the se­nior Maoists is Mr. Panda’s wife, Subhashree Panda.

The gov­ern­ment had said it was im­pos­si­ble to ful­fill all 13 de­mands made by the rebels.

Satur­day’s kid­nap­ping of Mr. Hikaka had halted ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Maoist lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials free­ing the Ital­ians and meet­ing some of the rebels’ de­mands.

Maoist ob­servers in Odisha said Satur­day that the law­mak­ers’ ab­duc­tion could be the re­sult of a power strug­gle within the rebel ranks. Mr. Hikaka was taken by a rebel that op­poses Mr. Panda’s and speaks a dif­fer­ent lan­guage.

On Sun­day, Maoist ne­go­tia­tors Dan­da­pani Mohanty and B.D. Sharma said of Mr. Colan­gelo’s re­lease in a joint state­ment to the press: “We are happy that at least this is a first step to­wards solv­ing the prob­lem.”

Odisha Chief Min­is­ter Naveen Pat­naik held an emer­gency meet­ing Sun­day af­ter the ne­go­tia­tors de­clared they would not pur­sue talks un­til the sit­u­a­tion is re­solved.

Maoist rebels in this min­eral-rich re­gion of In­dia have long fought to over­throw the gov­ern­ment, of­ten launch­ing deadly at­tacks against po­lice and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in on­go­ing guer­rilla war­fare in largely tribal ar­eas in the re­gion.

In the east­ern state of Jhark­hand, rebels killed 13 po­lice of­fi­cers in a land-mine at­tack in Jan­uary, and 10 po­lice of­fi­cers and an 8-year-old boy in a sim­i­lar at­tack in De­cem­ber.

Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh has de­clared the Maoists his na­tion’s No. 1 in­ter­nal threat.

Clau­dio Colan­gelo

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