Bhubaneswar: The deadline for the release of two Italians, who were kidnapped by Maoists in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, expired on Sunday but there was no word on them Monday morning.
The Italian duo have been identified as Bosusco Paolo, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61.
Meanwhile, the two Indians who were also taken hostage along with the two Italians, have been released by the Maoists.
Driver Kartik Parida and cook Santosh Maharana, both residents of Puri, are being interrogated by the police, reports said.
They have told the police that the Italians are safe.
Maoists have put forward a set of 13 demands in order to release the Italians. These include halt to anti-Naxal operations, withdrawal of cases against tribal people lodged in jails `in the name of Maoists` and implementation of the `agreement` with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year.
According to an eyewitness, the Italians had gone along with the two to the district of Kandhamal March 12 on a four-day trekking trip.
On March 14 morning, about 7-6 people came with guns when they were sitting near a rivulet. The rebels took the four to the forest after tying their hands and covering their eyes with cloth.
The Maoists, in an audio message sent to local media said the tourists were kidnapped at the border of Ganjam and the communally sensitive Kandhamal district.
The abduction has brought to light the issue of unauthorized visits of foreign tourists to tribal areas. The state government last month had imposed restriction on the visit of foreign tourists and researchers to the areas inhabited by tribals.
One of the Italians was living in the coastal beach town of Puri for the past several years and illegally running a tour agency to facilitate the visit of foreigners to the tribal areas, local officials said.
A Maoist calling himself Sabyasachi Panda said in the audio message, "We have imprisoned two Italian tourists."
The Maoist leader also said they had enough evidence that the tour operators bribed the administration to allow foreigners to visit the interior areas despite a ban.
"We have apprehended two Italian tourists who like hundreds of foreign tourists are encouraged by the government to visit tribal areas, treat the tribals as monkeys, chimpanzees and objects of ridicule," he stated.
"We appeal people to raise their voice against such inhuman practices,`` the Maoist leader stated.
He said the tourists were picked after they were found taking photographs of some tribal women near a rivulet.
Meanwhile, India Sunday informed Italy of the efforts being made by the Odisha government for early release of the two Italian nationals as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna spoke to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik about the evolving situation.
Patnaik informed Krishna of the ongoing efforts being made by his government for an early release of the abducted Italian nationals.
In another development the Italian consul-general in Kolkata Joel Melchiori arrived in the state capital Bhubaneswar and discussed with top officials the situation.
Melchiori told reporters he hoped the government will find a solution and rescue the abducted Italians as early as possible.
Chief Minister Patnaik, who reviewed the situation with top police and administrative officials Sunday, has appealed to the Maoists to release the two Italians and hold a dialogue with the government.
"I appealed to the left-wing extremists to release them immediately on humanitarian grounds," Patnaik told reporters here. "The government of Odisha is open to negotiations," he said.
Maoists are active in more than half of the state`s 30 districts and the district of Kandhamal is considered a stronghold.
(With IANS inputs)