Maoists free Italian: ‘was kept on hilltop,often shifted’

Panda had demanded the release of his wife and six others in exchange of Basusco

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Bhubaneswar | Published: April 13, 2012 12:24:22 am

The 29-day hostage drama of Italian national Paolo Basusco ended on Thursday after Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda freed him in the forests bordering Ganjam and Kandhamal districts early in the morning,two days after Panda’s wife was acquitted in a case. Panda had demanded the release of his wife and six others in exchange of Basusco.

The 55-year-old Basusco,from Condove in Turin,Italy,was abducted along with 61-year-old fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo on March 14 while trekking in the forests. Colangelo was released on March 24 as a “goodwill gesture”.

Panda,secretary of the Orissa State Organising Committee of the Maoists,handed over Basusco to interlocutor Dandapani Mohanty at Balipadar village of Ganjam district around 5 am. Basusco was immediately taken to meet Italian ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte and consul general Joel Nechiori in Bhubaneswar.

“I am happy to be a free man now. I am tired and need some rest. I will have to return to Italy now,” Basusco said. Officials said he suffered two bouts of malaria during his captivity.

During his debriefing session with intelligence officials,Basusco said Panda kept him on a hilltop and he was often shifted around. He said Panda had 21 cadres with him,all armed except one. “I was served chicken curry just once in all these days,” he told the officials,adding that he had lost about 10 kg.

An official said,“Though he appeared to be sympathetic to the cause of Maoists,he did not like the violent method adopted by them.”

The Italian told reporters he was not sure if he would ever return to Orissa. “I do not know if I will come back here again. But the state and its people will never be far away from my mind and heart,” he said. He said he had visited the area where he was held many times in the past. “But going there as a tourist is different from going there as a hostage.”

He rued the fact that his “career” of adventure trekking may be over now. Basusco,who lived in Puri for the past 19 years on a tourist visa with multiple-entry facility,used to operate as a travel operator in the temple town. He left for New Delhi and was expected to leave for Italy late in the night.

Meanwhile,the fate of abducted BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka continued to hang in balance with the Andhra Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee of Maoists saying they would not release him till the government frees 30 of their men and women including commander Chenda Bhushanam.

Maoist spokesman Jagabandhu said in a statement,“The BJD MLA’s fate will be decided by a praja (people’s) court. Unless the government releases all 30 prisoners,all BJD lawmakers in Koraput will face dire consequences.”

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