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Indian Maoists release Italian hostage in exchange for wife of rebel leader

Maoists release Italian tour guide Paolo Bosusco, who was kidnapped in a remote part of Orissa nearly a month ago, in exchange for the jailed wife of a rebel leader.

Paolo Bosusco, an Italian tour guide who was taken hostage by Maoist rebels, waves from a balcony of a guesthouse after being freed by rebels in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar.
Paolo Bosusco, an Italian tour guide who was taken hostage by Maoist rebels, waves from a balcony of a guesthouse after being freed by rebels in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar.

NEW DELHI // Maoists yesterday released Italian tour guide Paolo Bosusco, who was kidnapped in a remote part of Orissa nearly a month ago, in exchange for the jailed wife of a rebel leader.

Mr Bosusco, who has lived in India for the past 20 years, was freed after becoming the first foreigner kidnapped by the Maoists, who have led an insurgency for decades across large swathes of central and eastern India.

"I love Orissa. I am happy being a free man now. I am tired and need some rest," Mr Bosusco, 54, told reporters in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa's capital.

Mr Bosusco was seized, along with another Italian, Claudio Colangelo, on March 14. Mr Colangelo, 61, was released and handed to a group of reporters on March 25.

Maoists alleged the Italians were kidnapped after they were spotted taking photographs of tribal women bathing in a river in the Orissa's Kandhamal district, an allegation Mr Colangelo denied.

In return for his release, the Orissa government on Tuesday freed Subhashree Panda, the wife of Sabyasachi Panda, the commander in Orissa of the Maoist rebels, known as Naxals or Naxalites. The government has also promised to facilitate the release of several jailed rebels and their supporters.

Mrs Panda, who was arrested in 2010, was released after a court acquitted her of being involved in Maoist-related activities. She had spent two years in prison.

After her release, Mrs Panda condemned the kidnapping of foreigners by her husband's forces and said she was willing to be a mediator in the future.

"It is not right to keep anyone hostage for fulfilment of certain demands.," said Mrs Panda, according to the Press Trust of India.

Rahul Pandita, author of Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India's Maoist Movement, said Mrs Panda was trying to distance herself from her husband so she is not rearrested. Other charges pending against her include being an accessory to a 2008 attack on a police armoury in which 13 police officers were killed and thousands of AK-47s stolen.

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, calls the Maoists India's main internal security threat. Hundreds of people are killed every year in the conflict, although levels of violence have fallen in recent years. The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of millions of landless tribal people.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

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* With additional reporting by Reuters