Maoists’ fresh ultimatum in Odisha; threat to kill Italian hostage
In a grim turn to the three-week old hostage crisis, Maoists on Friday issued a fresh ultimatum threatening to execute the abducted Italian if their demands are not met within 96 hours.
The Maoists holding 54-year-old Paolo Bosusco hostage since March 14 rejected the list of 27 prisoners who were offered to be freed by the Odisha government in a swap deal for the release of the Italian, saying it does not contain the names of those they wanted to be released. Piling up pressure on the State government, the left-wing extremists threatened to take the 'extreme step' if their demands were not met within 96 hours.
There was also no response to the government offer from another group of Maoists who are holding 37-year-old BJP MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage since March 24. In an audio message to a section of the media, top leader of the Maoist Odisha State Organising Committee Sabyasachi Panda said the list of prisoners proposed to be freed for securing the release of Italian Paolo Bosusco was unacceptable and gave the 96-hour ultimatum.
Panda had demanded immediate release of seven persons, including his wife Subhashree Das alias Mili Panda for Bosusco's release. But he said the government's list excluded many whose release had been demanded.
Subhashree's name figured in the list of persons proposed to be freed by the government. Panda also sought a written agreement on fulfilment of the demands.
Accusing the Naveen Patnaik government of adopting delaying tactics, he said its talks with Maoist-nominated negotiators BD Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty was a "farce" as no clear-cut decision had been taken on the 13 demands made for the release of Bosusco.
The ultimatum came a few hours after the government and Maoist mediators held talks on the Chief Minister offer to free 27 persons, including eight Maoists, in return for the release Hikaka and Bosusco. The Italian Ambassador met Patnaik after fresh ultimatums. The Chief Secretary and Home Secretary U N Behera said the new demand by Panda was being examined.
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 while Bosusco continues to be in their captivity. Referring to the BJD legislator's abduction, Panda said the incident had raised several questions and the government's attention appeared to have shifted from securing the release of the abducted Italian.
Friday’s development came as a setback to the State government which was hoping that the two hostages would be released by the Maoists after the latest swap offer. Among those to be released, 15 belonged to the Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha. The eight Maoists to be freed included six from Odisha and a couple from Andhra Pradesh, Murla Neelam Reddy and his wife Setu Pangi. The four others were among the names furnished by the Odisha State organising Committee of CPI (Maoists) for the release of the Italian.
Meanwhile, the Maoist Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee holding Hikaka hostage was yet to respond to the state government's decision to release the prisoners. A Maoist leader had telephoned a section of the media yesterday, saying the deadline, which was to end last evening, had been extended till the evening of April 7.
Centre against swap deal
The Central Government is keenly observing the hostage situation in Odisha and is believed to be against any swap of prisoners with an abducted MLA and an Italian tour guide. The Home Ministry is not involved in any way with the negotiations between the Maoists and the Odisha government as the latter has not sought any help, but it is in regular touch with the State government.
Ministry officials feel that due to the inability of the Odisha government to take tough stand against the Naxals, the extremists keep abducting prominent people to free their cadres or sympathisers from jails. Reports from Bhubaneswar suggested that the Odisha government decided to release 27 jailed people in return for the release of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka and Italian Paolo Bosusco taken hostage by two separate Naxal groups.
"The Maoists are taking full advantage of the fact that the Naveen Patnaik government easily succumbs to pressure and it is very easy to get someone released from a jail in Odisha through kidnapping," an official said. When the Naxals kidnapped then Malkanagiri collector R Veenel Krishan along with a junior engineer last year, the Orissa government agreed to fulfill all 14 demands of the rebels including withdrawal of cases against top CPI (Maoist) leaders Prasadam, Padma and Eswari to facilitate their release from jails.
Adequate central security forces are stationed in Odisha, yet the State government has hardly launched any full scale operations against the Maoists leading to the free-run of the rebels in many parts of the State. "Time has come for the Odisha government to stand up and act tough against the Naxals, else it will have to succumb to their (Maoists) pressure again," the official said.
- Asian Tribune -