Bhubaneswar: Maoists Monday extended the deadline for release of the two Italian nationals they abducted five days ago, and named three interlocutors to begin a dialogue with the Odisha government.
A rebel leader who called himself as Sunil announced the names through an audio message sent to some selected journalists.
The mediators are Narayan Sanyal, a senior rebel leader lodged in the Giridih jail of Jharkhand, social activist Dandapani Mohanty and human rights activist Biswapriya Kanungo. Mohanty and Kanungo belonged to Odisha.
The rebels have also announced unilateral ceasefire from their side and have appealed to other Maoists operating along the state border not to indulge in violence.
He also said the deadline for the state government to respond to their offer is March 20 evening. On Sunday morning, the rebels had set March 18 evening as the deadline.
The rebels said the hostages are safe and have been regularly given food and rest.
The response from rebels came hours after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik urged them to nominate their representatives to discuss the matter on their behalf with the government.
Patnaik also said there would be no action by security forces as long as the extremists did not indulge in any violence.
According to eyewitness, the Italian nationals Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo had gone along with two Indians, Santosh Moharana and Kartika Parida, both residents of Puri, to Kandhamal district March 12 on a trekking trip.
On March 14 morning, about six to seven people came with guns when they were sitting near a rivulet. The rebels took the four to the forest after tying their hands and covering their eyes with a cloth.
The rebels released Kartik and Santosh March 16 but kept the Italians hostage.
Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda who names himself as Sunil, in an audio message sent to local media early Sunday said the tourists were kidnapped after they were found taking ‘objectionable’ photographs of some tribal women near a rivulet.
They demanded that the government stop anti-Maoist combing operations and fulfil their demands.
The Maoist leader also said they had enough evidence that the tour operators bribed the administration to allow foreigners to visit the interior areas despite a ban.
The Maoists want the government to fulfil a charter of 13 demands including those it had promised last year for the safe release of the hostages.
The demands they had made last year included halting of anti Maoist operation, scrapping of accords with MNCs for land transfer and projects, compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody and release of about 600 prisoners.
In the latest demands they said tribals are not commodities and tribal areas are not a place for the visit of tourists. The rebels said the government should declare this clearly and arrest and punish those who violates.
Other demands of the rebel included release of all anti-displacement leaders who have been arrested for raising their voices against various industrial projects, including Posco and Vedanta.
The latest abduction appears to be the first case of foreigners being abducted by rebels in the state.
Maoists are active in more than half of the state’s 30 districts and the district of Kandhamal is considered a stronghold.
Meanwhile, India assured Italy that all efforts are being made for an early release of the two Italians when Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi called his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna.
“India assures Italy that all efforts are being made to secure release of Italians kidnapped in Odisha,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, said in a tweet on the microblogging site.
State Home Secretary U.N. Behera said the government was taking all necessary steps for the safe release of Bosusco Paolo, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61.