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