Bhubaneswar: Two Italian tourists were taken hostage by Maoists from the tribal-dominated Kandhamal-Ganjam border in Odisha.
State Home Secretary UN Behera confirmed the incident on Sunday and said that the abduction took place last night.
"There is information about abduction of two persons by Maoists in Kandhamal district," Director General of Police Manmohan Praharaj said.
Kandhamal District Magistrate RP Patil said that the incident was believed to have taken place in the bordering area of Kandhamal and Ganjam districts. “The situation is being closely monitored”, he added.
The two Italian tourists had come to Daringibadi, a tourist spot in Kandhamal district on March 12, Kandhamal Superintendent of Police JN Pankaj said.
The SP said that the police had warned them against Maoist menace in the area.
"The visitors obliged and agreed not to go inside the area," he said, adding that the police were unaware of their movements thereafter.
Maoists claimed about the abduction of the two Italian tourists in an audio release sent to private TV channels in the state. The audio reportedly contains the voice of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda.
In the audio release, the Maoists issued a deadline to the state and central government to stop all combing operations in the state.
In the audio release, the Maoists also listed 13-point charter of demands and wanted the state government to act on those demands for release of the hostages. The demand includes the release of “political prisoners” and a halt to Operation Green Hunt.
The audio tape alleges that the two Italian tourists were clicking objectionable photographs of Tribals in interior areas despite a ban by the state government on such activities.
This is the first ever abduction of foreign tourists by Maoists.
The abduction came more than a year after the left ultra abducted then Malkanagiri collector R Veenel Krishan along with a junior engineer from a remote area of the district. Krishna was subsequently released a week after his kidnapping when the Orissa government fulfilled certain conditions set by Maoists.
Convener of the Jana Adhikar Manch Dandapani Mohanty has appealed to the Maoists not to set any deadline for fulfilment of their demands. Mohanty was one of the mediators who negotiated with the government for securing the release of then Malkanagiri collector.
Meanwhile, the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday appealed to the Maoists to free the two abducted Italian tourists on humanitarian ground.
Patnaik said the state government is ready to talk to the Maoists.
Earlier in the day Patnaik convened an emergency meeting of top officials and discussed how to tackle the hostage crisis. State chief secretary BK Patnaik, home secretary UN Behera and Director General of police MM Praharaj were among other who attended the meeting.
The Odisha government is also in touch with the Union Home Ministry on the ongoing crisis.
Indian government is in touch with Italy to facilitate assistance through authorities concerned in connection with the kidnapping of two Italian tourists.