Honouring his commitment, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday announced the names of 27 persons to be set free from jail in exchange for the release of Italian citizen Basusco Paolo and MLA Jhina Hikaka from Maoist captivity.
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 Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha chief Nachika Linga; and Maoist couple Setu Parangi and Murla Neelam Reddy.
"The state government has made this gesture on (humanitarian) grounds. I do hope the Maoists will reciprocate in a similar sprit and release the MLA and the Italian national immediately," Patnaik told reporters.
The CM later met Italian ambassador to India Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, who came to Bhubaneswar to enquire about Paolo.
However, the mediators for Paolo's release - former IAS officer and tribal rights activist BD Sharma and social activist Dandapani Mohanty - refused to comment on Patnaik's move, saying it was premature to do so because the talks were still on.
On the other hand, the Maoists holding Hikaka hostage extended their deadline from Friday to Saturday (April 7) for the state government to fulfil their demands. Hikaka’s wife, Shakuntala Majhi, welcomed the state government's decision.
On Wednesday, Patnaik announced 15 members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and eight left-wing extremists now lodged in jails in Koraput and Malkangiri districts would be set free.
Besides, he said the state government had decided to facilitate the release of four persons (among the 27), considering the demands of the OSOC regarding the release of Paolo.
So long, the state government had been drawing flak for delaying the negotiations process.
On March 25, Panda released the other abducted Italian, Claudio Colangelo, as a "goodwill gesture".