If Saturday's developments are any indication, Italian Paolo Basusco may be freed from his three-week-long capitivity by Maoists soon.
Three Odisha government negotiators and two Maoist-backed mediators jointly appealed to the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI (Maoist) to free Paolo Basusco immediately.
They also signed an agreement as demanded by rebel leader Sabyasachi Panda, secretary of OSOC on Friday through an audiotape.
"After this agreement, we hope the Maoists will release Paolo," former IAS officer and tribal rights activist BD Sharma, one of the mediators, told reporters at a joint briefing.
Odisha home secretary UN Behera, heading the government side, said after several rounds of discussions, the mediators had given six names.
"Out of the six, the state government has agreed to facilitate the
release of five persons
," Behera said.
He said chief minister Naveen Patnaik had made statements in the Odisha assembly on key demands of the Maoists indicating the government's commitment to development of the scheduled areas and welfare of the tribal populations of the state.
Restrictions made on tourism in tribal areas and the government's commitments to protect the dignity and honour of tribal population had been dealt at length, he said.
Regarding the cases of alleged human rights violations, Behera assured that action, such as, payment of compensation, investigation of cases as per the orders of the Supreme Court, Orissa high court, National Human Rights Commission and Odisha Human Rights Commission would be taken.
Behera added that Sharma's notes during the negotiation process on excise policy in tribal areas, Operation Greenhunt, rising level of administration in Scheduled Areas, anti-displacement mass movement and governance in Scheduled areas including land issues would be "examined" by the concerned departments of the government and appropriate action taken.
Basusco and fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo (60) were abducted on March 14 by the OSOC, led by Sabyasachi Panda, in Kandhamal district where they had gone for a trekking expedition.
They claimed responsibility of the abduction on March 17.
Since then the talks faltered several times due to a layers of difficulties like reluctance of initially chosen mediators, Patnaik's rejection of one mediator and abduction of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka from Koraput district by the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee on March 24.
On March 25, Panda had released Colangelo as a "goodwill gesture".
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).
In the meanwhile, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee also extended its deadline till April 10 for the government to fulfill their demands for Hikaka's release. 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.