In a grim turn to the three-week old hostage crisis,Maoists today issued a fresh ultimatum threatening to execute the abducted Italian if their demands were not met within 96 hours.
Rebels holding 54-year-old Paolo Bosusco hostage since March 14 rejected the list of 27 prisoners who were offered to be freed by the Odisha government in a swap deal for the release of the Italian,saying it did not contain names of those they wanted to be freed.
Piling up pressure on the state government,the left-wing extremists threatened to take the ‘extreme step’ if their demands were not met within 96 hours.
There was also no response to the government offer from another group of Maoists who are holding 37-year-old BJP MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage since March 24.
In an audio message to a section of the media,top leader of the Maoist Odisha State Organising Committee Sabyasachi Panda said the list of prisoners proposed to be freed for securing the release of Italian Paolo Bosusco was unacceptable.
Panda had demanded the immediate release of seven people,including his wife Subhashree Das alias Mili Panda for Bosusco. But he said the government’s list excluded many whose release had been demanded. Subhashree’s name figured in the list. Panda also sought a written agreement on the demands.
Accusing the Naveen Patnaik government of adopting delaying tactics,he said its talks with Maoist-nominated negotiators B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty was a “farce” as no clear-cut decision had been taken on the 13 demands made for the release of Bosusco.
The ultimatum came a few hours after the government and Maoist mediators held talks on the chief minister’s offer to free 27 people,including eight Maoists,in return for Hikaka and Bosusco.
Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte met Chief Secretary B K Patnaik after the fresh ultimatum.
The Chief Secretary and Home Secretary U N Behera said the new demand by Panda was being examined.
Bosusco,a Puri-based tour operator,was abducted with another Italian Claudio Colangelo on March 14 while they were trekking in the Kandhamal district. Colangelo was freed on March 25 as a “goodwill gesture” by the ultras while Bosusco continues to be in their captivity.
Referring to the BJD legislator’s abduction,Panda said the incident had raised several questions and the government’s attention appeared to have shifted from securing the release of the abducted Italian.
Today’s development came as a setback to the state government which was hoping the two hostages would be released by the Maoists after the latest swap offer.
Among those to be released,15 belonged to the Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha. The eight Maoists to be freed included six from Odisha and a couple from Andhra Pradesh,Murla Neelam Reddy and his wife Setu Pangi.
The four others were among the names given by the Odisha State organising Committee of CPI (Maoists) in exchange for the Italian.
Meanwhile,the Maoist Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee,holding Hikaka hostage,was yet to respond to the state government’s decision to release the prisoners.
A Maoist leader had called a section of the media yesterday,saying the deadline,which was to end last evening,had been extended till the evening of April 7.