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Odisha govt agrees to Maoists demands after expiry of deadline

Bhubaneswar(PTI): Bowing to demand by Maoists that it withdraw cases against 13 prisoners for the freedom of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka, the Odisha government today announced that it was agreeable to do so after expiry of the deadline set by the ultras at 5:00 pm.

“It has been decided to take steps for withdrawal of prosecution against 13 persons following the due process of law,” Home Secretary U N Behera told reporters shortly afterwards.

The thirteen include five Maoists.

Earlier after expiry of the ultimatum, in a fresh message to the media, a leader of CPI (Maoist) Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) said it had no faith in the state government and the fate of the 37-year-old tribal MLA from Laxmipur would be decided by a people’s court.

The message said the deadline had been extended four times in the past and there would be no further extension.

A Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, who fights cases of Maoists and their frontal organisation, said the praja court was likely to be held tomorrow and time and venue would be decided later.

The Maoists had demanded that cases of those to be released should be withdrawn and had declined to seek bail.

The ultras had dropped the name of Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused in the killing of 55 policemen, from the list of rebels sought to be freed in exchange for the legislator who was kidnapped on March 24 from Koraput district.

They wanted the lawyer and the MLA’s wife Kaushalya to accompany the freed rebels to Balipeta to Narayanpatna area in Koraput district for a hostage-prisoner exchange.

Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte met Bosusco soon after he was brought here.

“I am happy for the release of Bosusco. I will like to express my gratitude to Indian authorities and particularly to Odisha Chief Minister for all the assistance and cooperation given for the safe release of Bosusco.”

Saying that he was treated well in captivity, Bosusco said “I am very sorry that time has come to leave India. My work is finished.

“I must thank the people of Odisha for all the love and friendship they have given me in the last 22 years,” he said in English and in Odia, in which he is fluent.

“I don’t know if I will return, but their love will always remain in my heart,” he said.

Asked if he along with compatriot Claudio Colangelo had taken objectionable photographs as alleged before they were kidnapped from Kandhamal district on March 14, he replied “No, it is not true.”

Stating that his health was fine, he said “It was a unique experience.”

He also said, “I don’t know what is right and what is wrong. I am not a political person. But I can just say that everybody should leave violence. I hope my sacrifice will not go in vain.”

Earlier, he told an Italian tv news channel, “I’m fine, I’m finally free.

“Don’t worry, you know I’m strong,” he said in a message to his relatives.

Asked by his interviewer why he was so thin, he said: “This is because of my 28 days of ‘paid holiday’. Unfortunately the food was what it was.

“The Maoists tried to give me what they could but unfortunately given the conditions in the jungle I could not eat very much. I also had malaria twice.”

Bosusco also called his father, Azelio, in Italy.

Bosusco’s release came two days after Sabyasachi Panda’s wife Subhashree Panda alias Mili Panda was released from jail after being acquitted by a Gunupur court in an encounter case of 2004.

The state government had agreed to release five prisoners, including Subhashree, for the release of Bosusco.

However, Dandapani Mohanty, who along with B D Sharma held talks on behalf of the Maoists with state government officials, said that Panda was not fully satisfied and wanted the government to withdraw cases against prisoners instead of bail being sought.

“However, after a long discussion, I persuaded the Maoists to release Bosusco. I told them that the Italian is our guest and he should not be held hostage for long,” Mohanty said.

The Italian’s release came five days after the state government representatives, led by Home Secretary U N Behera and the two Maoist-named mediators, signed a joint statement on April seven on fulfilment of the 13-point charter of demands placed by the Maoists.

Even after signing of the joint statement, Bosusco’s release was delayed apparently due to inability of the Maoist mediators to send the document to Panda.

Later, the home secretary said that local officials in Kandhamal district had tried to prevent Bosusco from visiting certain areas keeping his safety in view.

“I don’t think he had committed any offence,” he said in reply to a question.

If it was found that he had committed any offence, he said, action would be taken.

Though the Italian hostage drama came to an end, the Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee had in a letter last night warned that they would be compelled to decide the fate of Hikaka in a ‘praja’ court (people’s court) if the government delayed in meeting their demands.

The state government, however, has made it clear that a legal process has to be followed for the release of the 23 prisoners and their bail petitions must be moved quickly.

Meanwhile, Hikaka’s wife Kaushalya once again appealed to the Maoist to release her husband immediately without causing any harm as “he is innocent.”

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