After two days delay, the Odisha government on Thursday evening began negotiations with two of the Maoist nominated mediators – Dandapani Mohanty and BD Sharma – for the release of two Italian nationals abducted by the Maoists.
The talks began few hours after Sharma, a former IAS officer and tribal rights activist, reached Bhubaneswar in the afternoon to join Mohanty, who was a mediator during the abduction of the then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna in February last year.
Home secretary UN Behera, panchayatiraj secretary PK Jena and scheduled caste and scheduled tribe development secretary SK Sarangi are holding the discussion from the state government side. Maoists abducted Basusco Paolo (55) and Claudio Colangelo (60) from the forests of Kandhamal, about 300 km southwest of Bhubaneswar, on March 14 when they had gone on a trekking expedition. They have asked the state government to fulfill 13 demands for the foreigners’ release.
Though the Maoists had initially named three mediators, including Mohanty, to talk on their behalf on Monday, the negotiation process was derailed after one of them – Human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo – opted out and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik rejected another, jailed CPI (Maoist) politburo member Narayan Sanyal, on the ground that he was convicted for several crimes.
The Maoists again proposed two names, Sharma and social activist Prafulla Samantra, but the latter too opted out of the process. While accepting Sharma as a mediator, Patnaik again urged the Maoists to propose the third mediator’s name.
Though Maoists are yet to propose the third mediator’s name, on Wednesday they made a conditional offer to release of one the two Italians in their custody in exchange of release of five persons including Subhashree Das, wife of top Maoist Sabyasachi Panda, and action against police officials allegedly involved in fake encounters and rapes.