BHUBANESWAR: The Odisha government today said it has agreed to free five of the six Maoists the abductors of the Italian have demanded for his release.
"The Maoists have sought release of six persons. The state government has decided to facilitate the release of five of the six," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement in the state Assembly.
Piling up pressure on the state government, Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda had yesterday threatened to take "extreme step" on the 54-year-old Italian hostage Paolo Bosusco if his demands were not met within 96 hours.
Terming as "incorrect" that views of B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, who were mediating for the release of the Italian national, were not taken into consideration while taking the decision, Patnaik said the two had categorically stated that the rebels want release of six persons - Arati Majhi, Manohan Pradhan, Suka Nachika, Chakra Tadingi, Bijay Tadingi and Subhashree Das.
"In view of the state government's clarification, in this House, I appeal again to the Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) headed by Sabyasachi Panda to release the Italian national immediately and unharmed," the CM said.
Patnaik also appealed for the release of Jhina Hikaka, the tribal BJD MLA from Laxmipur, immediately. Earlier in the day, the Odisha government and the Maoist mediators held fresh talks to resolve the crisis on the fulfillment of demands by April 10 for the release of Bosusco.
"A fresh round of negotiation was held between state government representatives and Maoist mediators in the wake of the fresh ultimatum given by Bosusco's abductors," a senior official said. Though what exactly transpired at the talks was not immediately clear, sources said the two sides were believed to have deliberated on the names of prisoners to be released.
Panda's insistence on a written agreement on fulfillment of demands was also understood to have figured in the meeting, they said.
Meanwhile, Maoist Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee holding Hikaka hostage is yet to respond to the state government's decision to release the prisoners. A Maoist leader had telephoned a section of the media on Thursday, saying the deadline, which was to end on March 5, had been extended till March 7.
The developments came a day after the Maoists rejected the list of 27 prisoners who were offered to be released by the Odisha government in a swap for both the Italian national and the MLA. The hostage issue figured in the state assembly with members of the opposition Congress voicing concern about the fate of Hikaka and Bosusco.
Congress member Dambarudhar Ulaka said a feeling of insecurity has gripped legislators from Maoist-hit areas.
"We will be returning to our constituencies after the budget session. We are apprehensive... we are not sure whether we will be here for the next session in view of the growing Maoist menace," the MLA from Bisamkatak constituency in Rayagada district said. Anup Sai, another Congress MLA, said it was a matter of concern that Bosusco and Hikaka were in Maoists' captivity since March 14 and March 24 respectively.
He also referred to the audio message issued by Panda which claimed that the BJD MLA's abduction appeared to have been staged. Meanwhile, Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte met Chief Secretary B K Patnaik.
Bosusco, a Puri-based tour operator, was abducted with another Italian Claudio Colangelo on March 14 while they were trekking in Kandhamal district. Colangelo was freed on March 25 as a "good will gesture" by the ultras.