A day after Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced the names of 27 persons to be set free from jail in exchange for the release of Italian citizen Basusco Paolo (55) and MLA Jhina Hikaka (37) from Maoist captivity, rebel leader Sabyasachi Panda issued a fresh audiotape on Friday saying that Paolo would not be released for now as the government had been insincere in its approach to solve the problem.
"The government has made a farce out of the talks with the mediators. If the government does not fulfill our demands in the next 96 hours (four days), we will be forced to take extreme steps," Panda said in the audiotape released to the media.
Panda said they had asked for release of 'innocent' persons, who were languishing in jail due to fabricated cases and re-arrest after being freed by courts, and for action against erring police officers involved in cold blooded murders as per court and human rights commission orders.
"But the government has announced release of only three persons and has not even done any agreement with the mediators," he said, adding that he had released one of the Italians, Claudio Colangelo (60), on March 25 as a 'goodwill' gesture, but the government had yet to reciprocate.
Home secretary UN Behera told reporters that they were examining the contents of the audiotapes.
On Thursday, Patnaik said the government had decided to facilitate the release of 27 people from jail as demanded by the rebels in exchange for the freedom of the hostages. They included 15 activists of leftist tribal outfit Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, 8 Maoist cadres as demanded by the abductors of Hikaka, and 4 persons suggested by the mediators for Paolo's release.
Prominent among them are Subhasree Panda, wife of Sabyasachi Panda, who heads the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI (Maoist); Suka Nachika, brother of CMAS chief Nachika Linga; and Maoist couple Setu Parangi and Murla Neelam Reddy.
Following the chief minister's announcement, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee extended its deadline from Thursday to Saturday for fulfilment of all its demands for the MLA's release. On the other hand the two Maoist backed mediators holding talks for Paolo's release on Friday sought a clarification on how the government would facilitate the release of the people in jail.
Social activist Dandapani Mohanty told the Hindustan Times: "I am trying to understand what the government meant by the word 'facilitate'. I will be doing a research on it."
Sources said the government's announcement does not exactly mean swapping of prisoners with the hostages. The word 'facilitation' involves legal process for the release of people in jail and may take a bit longer which may have put off the Maoists, they said.
OSOC, headed by Sabyasachi Panda abducted Paolo and compatriot Claudio Colangelo (60) from Kandhamal district on March 14, while Hikaka was abducted by the AOBSZC, headed by Ramkrishna, on March 24. Panda freed Colangelo on March 25 as a "goodwill gesture".