Terming the statement of Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda 'incorrect', Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday said the state government had agreed to free five of the six persons demanded by the abductors of Italian Basusco Paolo (55) for his release.
“The mediators from the Maoist side had sought the release of six persons. The state government has decided to facilitate the release of five persons out of this list of six persons,” Patnaik said in the Odisha assembly.
Patnaik said the allegations by Sabyasachi Panda, secretary, Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) that the views of his mediators former IAS officer and tribal rights activist BD Sharma and social activist Dandapani Mohanty had not been taken into consideration was not correct.
Following the chief minister’s statement in the house, the government negotiators held discussions with the Maoist backed mediators – former IAS officer and tribal rights activist BD Sharma and social activist Dandapani Mohanty. “We are hopeful that by the evening we will conclude the discussions (for Paolo’s release),” home secretary UN Behera told reporters.
In the meanwhile, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, which has been holding MLA Jhina Hikaka (37) as hostage since March 24, extended its deadline till April 10 for the government to fulfill their demands. They also asked the government to free five more Maoists. “The government’s list of eight Maoists to be freed for Hikaka’s release actually contained just two Maoists,” said AOBSZC spokesperson Jagabandhu while talking to a local television channel.
On the other hand, the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha held a rally in Narayanpatna block of Koraput district demanding release of all CAMS activists now lodged in Koraput jail, Distancing CAMS from Hikaka’s abduction, the leftist tribal organisation’s chief Nachika Linda said the government should take steps to start a process to return land to tribals that were snatched away from them by unscrupulous elements.
On Friday, issuing an audiotape, Panda said they wanted the release of seven persons but the government agreed on only three. He threatened to take extreme action on Paolo if his demands were not fulfilled within the next 96 hours (April 10).
On Thursday chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced the names of 27 persons to be set free from jail in exchange for the release of Paolo and MLA Jhina Hikaka, abducted by another group, from Maoist captivity.
Of the 27 persons Patnaik agreed to release, 15 are activists of the leftist tribal outfit Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, eight Maoists as demanded by the abductors of Hikaka, and four persons suggested by former IAS officer BD Sharma and activist Dandapani Mohanty, the mediators for Paolo’s release.
Since the abduction of Paolo and fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo (60) on March 14 by the OSOC, led by Sabyasachi Panda, in Kandhamal and the capture of Hikaka by the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee on March 24 in Koraput district, the state government had been drawing flak for delaying the negotiations process though the demands made by both the groups were almost similar.
On March 25, Panda had released Colangelo as a “goodwill gesture”.