Targeting foreigners for the first time, Maoists abducted two Italians from the forests of Kandhamal district in Odisha on Saturday evening and set 14 demands for their release.
Among the key demands for freeing Basusco Paolo, aged around 55, and Claudio Colangilo are the halting of security operations against Maoists in the state and the release of their jailed leaders and 600 "innocent" tribals.
The demands are almost the same as raised during the February 2011 abduction of then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna.
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik on Sunday appealed for the release of the Italians on "humane grounds". Home ministry officials said the Centre was in touch with the state and had offered logistical support.Italian consul general Joel Nechiori, who flew down to Bhubhaneswar, hoped for an early resolution. An audio tape released by Communist Party of India (Maoist)’s Odisha organising secretary Sabyasachi Panda said the two were taking "objectionable" photos of tribals in the district.
Kandhamal superintendent of police JN Pankaj said the duo was last spotted on March 12 and warned not to venture into the interiors.
Intelligence officials said they were surprised Panda executed the abduction as he is not known to favour military action. Panda is believed to have been sidelined by the more militant Maoist leaders from Andhra. "He appears to have sprung the surprise to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the Maoists in Odisha," said a paramilitary force officer operating in the Maoist corridor.