A partial breakthrough in the Italian hostage crisis was made in Odisha on Sunday when Maoists released tourist Claudio Colangelo, 60, after 11 days.
The other Italian, Paolo Basusco, 55, remained in rebel custody, as did ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka, who was picked up in Koraput district on March 24. Paolo is said to have contracted malaria.
Hikaka’s abduction led to suspension of talks on the Italians’ release between the state and two Maoist-backed negotiators.Sabyasachi Panda, Odisha CPI (Maoist) leader, handed over Colangelo to mediapersons in Kandhamal district, saying he was sending a positive message by releasing him.
“Foreigners or Indians, we should not treat tribals like wildlife in a zoo. We’ve exposed the government’s policy, which brings in tourists who treat tribals as commodities,” Panda told a local TV channel.
Colangelo, a doctor in Rome, was quoted as saying, “It was a frightening experience though the Maoists took care of us. Now, I look forward to meeting my family. I don't want to get into politics... I leave that to the professionals.”
After the release, chief minister Naveen Patnaik urged the Maoist-appointed mediators — former IAS officer BD Sharma and social worker Dandapani Mohanty — to revive talks with the three government interlocutors for the release of the other two hostages.
Mohanty told HT: “This is a positive development. We had suspended — not ended — the talks. The talks can be resumed but the state government has to look into some suggestions we have made.”
Targeting foreigners for the first time, the Maoists had abducted Paolo and Colangelo on March 14 in Kandhamal district where they were on a trekking expedition.
Announcing the Italians' abduction on March 17, the ultras had made 13 demands for their release.
Since the day of the abduction, efforts to release them had become cumbersome. First, finding mediators on the Maoist side faced layers of difficulties as two negotiators backed out. Second, the state government refused to accept jailed Maoist Narayan Sanyal as a negotiator.
After suspending the talks, Mohanty and Sharma appealed to the Maoists to release the Italians and Hikaka unconditionally. Sources said Colangelo was supposed to have been released on Saturday, but the plan was deferred.
(With PTI inputs)MLA's wife appeals Maoists