Bhubaneswar(PTI): Two Italian tourists have been abducted in the tribal-dominated Ganjam district bordering Kandhamal by Maoists who demanded an immediate halt to operations against them by security forces.
The Italian tourists, Bosusco Paolo, functioning as a tour operator in Puri and Claudio Colangelo, who were on a trekking tour on the Ganjam-Kandhamal border, were abducted by Maoists yesterday, Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar today.
They had come from Puri by a vehicle and had ventured into the forested area despite being warned of the Maoist menace by the Daringibadi police station, he said.
They were accompanied by a driver and cook, he said adding that the Maoists, however, released the two along with the vehicle.
Appealing to the Maoists to release the two Italians, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said his government was open to “any kind of negotiation under the law”.
“I appeal to the Left-wing extremists to immediately release the foreign tourists on humanitarian ground. Odisha government is open to any kind of negotiation with the kidnappers under the law,” he said.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna spoke to Patnaik who briefed him on the efforts being made to secure the release of the hostages.
The Ministry of External Affairs is in touch with Italy to facilitate assistance through the authorities concerned and is keeping it informed about the latest developments in the abduction case, official sources said in Delhi.
The chief minister said that the state government has also informed the Home Ministry about the incident.
“I reiterate my appeal to the Left-wing extremists not to take any drastic step. I also condemn this heinous crime. No one will condone this kind of act in a civil society,” Patnaik said.
Italian Consul general Joel Melchiori rushed to Bhubaneswar and discussed the issue with Odisha authorities. “We hope to solve the issue as soon as possible….and hopefully they will be rescued,” he said.
Setting a deadline for this evening, the Maoists demanded an immediate halt to combing operations by security forces and withdrawal of cases against tribals who, they claim, were arrested as Maoists.
State Home Secretary U N Behera and DGP Manmohan Praharaj said the Italians had been taken hostage by rebels from the Kandhamal-Ganjam border area.
However, the government was yet to receive any direct communication from the kidnappers, the officials said.
With the Maoist deadline approaching, the Chief Minister took stock of the situation at a meeting with the Chief Secretary and other top officials.
After his meeting with the Behera, the Italian envoy said,”We are hopeful that the kidnappers will accept the appeal made by the chief minister to release the hostages. We are working together with the police and administration.”
He hoped the abductors would extend the deadline set by them for meeting their demands.
Melchiori said his country would revise the travel advisory to their nationals and ask them to abide by the advice of local authorities.
“We cannot control their movements, but we can advise them,” he said.
The Maoists, who claimed reaponsibility for the abduction of the foreign tourists through some private news channels around midnight last night, however, said the kidnapping had taken place on March 14.
In their communication to the TV channels, the Maoists claimed that the foreigners were taken hostage while allegedly taking objectionable photographs of tribals in interior areas despite a ban by the state government on such activities.
Asked if any steps were being taken to halt the combing operations against Maoists, the chief secretary said the government would wait for the response of the Naxals to the chief minister’s appeal before taking any steps for the release of the foreigners.
Meanwhile, a report from Puri said that the driver, Kartik Parida, and the cook, Santosh, who had since returned to the temple town, were being interrogated by the police.
The 13 demands put forward by the Maoists include halt to anti-Naxal operations, withdrawal of cases against tribal people lodged in jails ‘in the name of Maoists’ and implementation of the ‘agreement’ with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year, sources said.