Bhubaneswar, Apr 7: Barring any last minute hitch, Italian hostage Paolo Basusco may be freed soon from his three-week capitivity by Maoists who reached an agreement with the Odisha government tonight.
Another group, which had abducted BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka, extended its deadline to April 10 demanding release of five more people whose names were not on the list of 23 who were offered to be released by the state government in a swap deal.
“We have reached an agreement and concluded the fortnight-long negotiations with mediators nominated by CPI (Maoist) for the release of Italian Paolo Bosusco,” Home Secretary U N Behera told reporters as both sides released a signed joint statement after the talks.
Behera, who led the three-member state government side at the negotiations, said the joint statement was signed by both sides as demanded by the Maoist Odisha State Organising Committee which was holding Bosusco captive since March 14.
As already stated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the assembly, negotiators from both sides agreed that the state government would facilitate the release of five of the six persons whose release the Maoists had demanded, Behera said.
The joint statement said that after several rounds of discussion, the mediators had given six names - Arati Majhi, Manmohan Pradhan, Suka Nachika, Chakra Tadingi, Bijay Tadingi and Subhashree Das.
The statement said the government would facilitate release of 5 of these 6 persons.
The Maoist mediators, B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, after concluding the agreement, appealed to the Maoists to release Bosusco immediately and in good health.
Patnaik earlier said in a statement in the assembly, “the Maoists have sought release of six persons. The state government has decided to facilitate the release of five of the six.”
Mounting pressure on the state government, Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda had yesterday threatened to take the “extreme step” against the 54-year-old Italian hostage if his demands were not met within 96 hours.
A day after the ultimatum, the two sides held two rounds talks before arriving at a mutually agreed position.
Meanwhile, rejecting Odisha governments offer of releasing 23 prisoners, the Maoist group holding Laxmipur MLA Hikaka captive extended the deadline for fulfilment of its demands till April 10 and sought release of an additional five persons.
A senior leader of Maoist Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee told the media over telephone that the MLA, abducted in Koraput district on March 24, was safe and the deadline which was to end today, was extended to April 10.
Besides the 23 prisoners already announced by the government, the Maoist group demanded release of five more persons - one Maoist and four members of the ultra-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha who were in jail in Koraput.
On the Italian hostage crisis, the joint statement signed by both sides said detailed discussions were held on various issues raised by Maoists and the good gesture of Sabyasachi Panda in releasing one of the Italian hostages during the course of negotiations.
The statement said that the chief minister made statements in the assembly indicating the state government's commitment to development in the Scheduled Areas and welfare of the tribal population.
Restrictions made on tourism in tribal areas and state government's commitments to protect the dignity and honour of tribal population were dealt at length, it said.
Regarding cases of alleged human rights violations, the government representatives assured that action, such as payment of compensation, investigation of cases as per the orders of the Supreme Court, the Orissa High Court, National Human Rights Commission and Odisha State Human rights Commission would be taken, the statement said.
During talks, B D Sharma gave some notes on certain issues in line with the 13-point demands of the Maoists.
These included excise policy in tribal areas, Operation Green Hunt, raising the level of administration in Scheduled Areas, anti-displacement mass movement and land issues, it said.
These matters would be examined by the concerned departments of the state government and appropriate action taken, it said.
Both sides expressed the hope that the Maoists would immediately release Bosusco unharmed in view of the joint signed statement.
Bosusco, a Puri-based tour operator, was abducted with another Italian Claudio Colangelo on March 14 while they were trekking in tribal dominated Kandhamal district. Colangelo was freed on March 25 as a “good will gesture” by the ultras while Bosusco continued to be in Maoists' captivity.
Hikaka was abducted in Koraput district on March 24 while he returning home to Laxmipur.