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Italian consul 'hopeful' of hostages' release

Mar 18, 2012 05:07 PM IST India India

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on Sunday spoke to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik about the status on the two Italian tourists taken hostage by Maoists. Krishna was briefed of the efforts made by Odisha government for the early release of two kidnapped Italian nationals.

The two tourists were taken hostage by Maoists in Kandhamal district of Odisha, reports said. Jaynarayan Pankaj, SP, Kandhamal, has confirmed abduction of the two Italian tourists on March 14 from Sorada Police Station area which comes under the Ganjam District bordering Kandhamal. He said that initially four people were abducted, of which two were from Puri.

MEA Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin on Sunday tweeted and said, "India informs Italy of efforts being made by Odisha government for release of two kidnapped Italian nationals."

Italian Consul Joel Melchiori met Odisha Home Secretary UN Behra on Saturday and said, "We are concerned about abduction but hopeful of their release. We will issue advisory to our nationals not to venture into such dangerous areas."

The two Indians were released on Saturday. Syed Akbaruddin, MEA spokesperson, said, "MEA is in contact with Italy to facilitate assistance through concerned Indian agencies in case involving 2 Italian tourists kidnapped in Odisha."

Odisha Chief Minister earlier had said, "I appeal to Maoists to immediately release the Italian nationals on humanitarian grounds. I condemn the incident. The government is ready to talk under the ambit of law."

One of the two abducted Italians has been staying in Puri for the last 19 years and has been running an adventure tourism agency.

Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo are the Italian tourists who have been abducted by the Maoists.

Reports said that Sunday is the last day of the deadline set by Maoists and the MHA has assured all help to the State government.

UN Behera Home Secretary, has also confirmed that two Italians have been abducted by the Maoists.

An audio tape sent by Odisha's top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda confirms the abduction. Panda said, "We have imprisoned two Italian tourists." He said the tourists would be released only after the government stopped anti-rebel operations and initiated dialogue with them.

The audio tape alleges that the two Italian tourists were taking objectionable photographs of tribals, an act banned by the Odisha government. The tape calls for the government to act on the 13 demands made a year ago by the Maoists in return of the release of the tourists.

"There is information about abduction of two persons by Maoists in Kandhamal district. Further details are awaited," Director General of Police Manmohan Praharaj said.

Behera confirmed the incident and said the abduction took place on Saturday night.

Kandhamal District Collector RP Patil said the incident was believed to have taken place in the bordering area of Kandhamal and Ganjam districts and the situation was being closely monitored though no detailed information was available immediately.

The abduction of the foreign tourists was claimed by Maoists through some private news channels around midnight on Saturday night, sources said.

In their communication to the TV channels, the Maoists claimed that the foreigners were taken hostage while allegedly taking objectionable photographs of tribals in interior areas despite a ban by the state government on such activities.

The Maoists have reportedly put forward a 13-point charter of demands for release of the hostages.

The conditions include halt to anti-Naxal operations, withdrawal of cases against tribal people lodged in jails 'in the name of Maoists' and implementation of the 'agreement' with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year, the sources said.

Superintendent of Police (Kandhamal) JN Pankaj said two Italian tourists along with some tour operators from Puri had come to Daringibadi, a tourist spot in Kandhamal district on March 12, but the police had warned them against Maoist menace in the area.

"The visitors obliged and agreed not to go inside the area," the SP said, adding that the police were unaware of the movements of the tourists thereafter.

"Before taking any step, we are waiting for details," said another police officer.

Dandapani Mohanty, Convener of the Jana Adhikar Manch, and one of the mediators who negotiated with the government for securing the release of the abducted Malkanagiri collector last year, has appealed to the Maoists not to set any deadline for fulfilment of their demands.

Mohanty has also appealed to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to immediately intervene in the matter.

The Maoists had abducted the then Malkanagiri collector R Veenel Krishan along with a junior engineer from a remote area in Malkanagiri in February last year. The two were released after the government arrived at an agreement with the three mediators, one from Odisha and two from Andhra Pradesh.

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sources claim that one of the two Italians abducted has been living in the area for nearly 12 years and running an adventure tourism company. The MHA has assured all help to the state government.

Audio tape

Here's an excerpt from the audio tape that has been sent to all media houses. But CNN-IBN is not vouching for its authenticity.

"We have set the deadline of Sunday evening both for the Centre and state to immediately halt all anti-Naxal operations and come forward for talks on our 13-point demand. If the government does not do so, they will solely be responsible for any harm caused to the tourists," the tape said.