Hostage crisis: Odisha govt bows to Maoists

Bowing to Maoists` demands, for securing the release of a BJD MLA and an Italian, Odisha govt said it would facilitate the release of 27 ultras.

Bhubaneswar: Bowing to Maoists demands,
Odisha government on Wednesday said it would facilitate the release
of 27 persons, including 8 Maoists, from jails in return for
securing the freedom of an MLA and an Italian taken hostage by
two separate groups of Naxals.

However, this left Maoist mediators unhappy as they
wanted to know about the 12 other demands and names of those
to be freed.

The announcement was made by Chief Minister Naveen
Patnaik in the state assembly, a day ahead of the deadline of
April 5 fixed by the kidnappers of 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA
Jhina Hikaka who was taken away on March 24.

"Considering the safety of Hikaka, it has been decided
by the state government to facilitate the release of 15
members of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and also eight Left Wing
Extremists in jails in Koraput and Malkangiri," the Chief
Minister said.

Considering the demands of the Odisha State Organising
Committee of CPI (Maoists) for Italian national Paolo Bosusco,
who was abducted in Kandhamal district on March 14, it was
decided to facilitate the release of four persons from the
list given by the Maoist mediators, he said.

The names of all those to be released would be
announced tomorrow, Patnaik said with an appeal to Maoists to
release Hikaka, who was abducted in Koraput district, and
Bosusco immediately, unharmed and in good health.

Maoist mediators B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty,
however, appeared disappointed over the manner in which the
announcement was made in the assembly.

"Besides the figure, we don`t know anything. We don`t
know the names of the persons being released. We are neither
happy nor sad. It is a mixed situation for us," said Sharma,
after state government representatives led by Home Secretary U
N Behera apprised them about the government`s decision.
"We had placed a 13-point charter of demands on behalf
of the Maoists. What about the other demands?" Sharma and
Mohanty said. "We don`t think there is any task left for us."

The Chief Minister said the government made efforts for
securing the release of the two hostages held by two separate
groups of Maoists and its repeated appeals to free them
were rejected.

Patnaik said the government has announced that there
would be no coercive action by security force unless there was
violence by the LWEs.

Referring to other demands by Maoists, particularly
exploitation of tribals, Patnaik said the government was
committed to their overall development.

"We have taken steps to improve health, irrigation,
employment, land rights of tribals and actions to prevent
their exploitation," the chief minister said.

"For tribal girls, the government has set up 3,000
hostels each having capacity of 100 beds. Besides 33 plus-II
colleges and 100 high schools have been opened in tribal
areas," Patnaik said, referring to the steps taken to improve
education in scheduled areas as demanded by Maoists.

On employment, the government has been giving jobs to
tribal youths through the employment mission and by the
department of scheduled tribe and scheduled castes. "We are
also planning to extend Odisha Tribal Livelihood Programme,"
he said.

On the demand against tribal tourism, Patnaik said the
government has banned photography and videography of tribals.
Foreigners were also barred from staying in tribal villages.

Odisha was ahead in terms of disbursement of land to
tribals under Forest Rights Act, he said.
About demands accepted for the release of the then
Malkangiri district Collector R Vineel Krishna in February
last year, the chief minister said most of them have already
been fulfilled.

A senior official said the decision to facilitate release
of the jailed ultras and the others appeared to have paved the
way for freeing the tribal legislator and Bosusco, a
Puri-based Italian tour operator.

The Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of CPI
(Maoist), which was behind Hikaka`s abduction, has fixed
tomorrow as the deadline for fulfillment of its demands,
including release of ultras and CMAS activists, and rejected
the proposal for talks.

Similarly, the other Maoist group holding Bosusco hostage
has warned of danger to the Italian if any operation was
launched to free him. They have demanded immediate release of
seven persons.

Claudio Colangelo, another Italian, was abducted along
with Bosusco while they were trekking in Kandhamal district.

Colangelo, however, was freed by Maoists as a "goodwill
gesture" on March 25.


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