Odisha: Talks resume, Maoists reiterate demands

Talks resumed between the Odisha government and Maoist-appointed mediators for the release of the second Italian.

Bhubaneswar: Talks resumed on Monday between the
Odisha government and Maoist-appointed mediators for the
release of the second Italian even as another rebel group
holding captive a ruling BJD MLA demanded immediate halt to
combing operation and release of jailed ultras.

"Fresh talks for safe release of Italian tour operator
Paolo Bosusco progressed in a cordial atmosphere. We hope to
conclude negotiations soon," Home Secretary UN Behera told
reporters during a break in the dialogue session.

The talks were suspended on March 24 when tribal BJD MLA
from Laxmipur, Jhina Hikakawhen, was abducted by over 50
Maoists while he was returning home from Koraput district.

Maoist-nominated negotiators BD Sharma and Dandapani
Mohanty also maintained that discussions were continuing in a
cordial atmosphere and would be concluded soon.

"Now, we have reached a decisive stage," Mohanty said.
The Home Secretary made it clear that the talks with
two rebel mediators were confined to safe release of Bosusco,
whose compatriot, Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo, was set
free yesterday and handed over to a group of journalists in
tribal-dominated Kandhamal district.

As MLA Hikaka was abducted by a separate rebel outfit on
March 24 in Koraput district, the matter relating to his
release was not being discussed with mediators Sharma and
Mohanty, sources said adding the abductors of Hikaka were yet
to name their negotiators.

However, Mohanty said there was information that the
abducted legislator was "safe and secure".

Sharma also made it clear that rivalry between Maoist
groups had not affected the negotiation for the release of the
lone Italian hostage.

A letter, addressed to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and
bearing name of Hikaka, was released to a section of the media
which demanded immediate halt to combing operation by security
forces, release of political prisoners including ultras and
activists of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha.

Claiming that the BJD MLA was safe, the letter also
demanded fulfilment of all the conditions conceded by Odisha
government during the abduction of the then Malkangiri
district collector R Vineel Krishna in February last year.

It also sought a halt to holding of rallies and
processions for release of the lawmaker, sources said.

The chief minister has appealed to the Maoists to
release Hikaka unharmed immediately.

The state Assembly was paralysed amid frequent
adjournments as Opposition Congress members stormed the well
demanding the chief minister`s resignation.

The Congress alleged that ruling BJD had entered into
a secret agreement with a Maoist-backed outfit for zilla
parishad chairman`s election in Koraput.

The issue of Hikaka`s abduction rocked the Assembly with
slogan-shouting Congress MLAs alleging that the MLA was
abducted because of an agreement between the ruling BJD and
Maoist-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) for zila
parishad chairman`s elections in Koraput.

They alleged that the 37-year-old MLA was abducted for
non-fulfilment of demands by the CMAS contained in the "secret
agreement" arranged by BJD legislators, including Hikaka, of
which the chief minister was aware.

Refuting the charge, government chief whip RN Pani
said Congress has come out with an `absurd` theory.

Maoist interlocutor Dandapani also termed the Congress
allegation as misleading and baseless.

While Maoists set free 61-year-old Colangelo, his
compatriot Puri-based Italian tour operator Paolo Bosusco, 54
was still being held captive by the ultras who said his
release would depend on the Odisha government`s seriousness
regarding their demands.

The two foreigners had been abducted by the Maoists
while trekking in the dense forest and hilly areas of
Kandhamal district on March 14. But the matter came to light
through media only on March 17.

Regarding the Laxmipur MLA, the sources said the state
government was also exploring back channel negotiation with
the Maoists as well as leaders of Naxal-backed CMAS in order
to secure release of Hikaka.


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