x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Two kidnapped men still missing as exchange deadline with Indian Maoist rebels passes

Police threaten to withdraw services from area if abductors’ call for release of jailed hard-core criminals in exchange for an Italian tour guide and an Indian politician is agreed.

NEW DELHI // No one knows what has happened to a kidnapped Italian tour guide and an Indian politician after the deadline for their release in exchange for the freedom of Maoist rebels in India passed yesterday with no word of agreement.

The Orissa state government was dealing with two separate groups, and the police have threatened to withdraw from Maoist-affected areas, if the jailed rebel fighters are freed.

The Italian tour guide, Paolo Bosusco, was taken hostage in the state of Orissa, now formally known as Odisha, along with Claudio Colangelo on March 14. Mr Colangelo was released on March 25 to a group of reporters.

A day before Mr Colangelo was freed, Jhina Hikaka, a local politician, who was to lead the negotiations was also kidnapped.

The guerrillas have continued to hold Mr Bosusco and Mr Hikaka, demanding the release of 30 prisoners and a halt in operations by government forces against the rebels.

It is the first time the rebels have targeted foreigners. The Maoists are also known as Naxals or Naxalites after the remote West Bengal village where their movement began.

The Naxalites kidnapped the Italians after they were spotted taking photographs of indig, enous tribal women bathing in a river in the Odisha's Kandhamal district.

The Maoists have also demanded a ban on foreign and Indian tourists in tribal areas.

The Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, appealed to the rebels to release Mr Bosusco unharmed. The government has agreed to release 27 of the 30 guerrillas being held but added conditions.

The Odissa police association has also threatened to ban all anti-Naxalite operations if any prisoners were released.

"In the negotiations now, some names of some hard-core criminals, or hard-core Maoists, are being put forth on the table for their release which we police object to vehemently," Sawarmal Sharma, president of the Orisssa Police association, said.

"If such a decision is taken, then all the police personnel working in Maoist-affected areas will be forced to withdraw their service from those areas."

Mr Sharma said the association particularly objected to the release of the Maoist, Chenda Bhusanam, who has allegedly killed more than 50 security officers

Late yesterday morning, the Odisha government released Subhashree Panda, the wife of the Maoist leader, Sabyasachi Panda, who was arrested and jailed in 2010. Her release was a condition of freeing Mr Bosusco.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

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