2 Italians abducted by Odisha Maoists

Maoist extremists have kidnapped two Italian tourists from the forest at Gajalbandi in the Kandamahal district of Odisha. The extremists have threatened to kill the hostages unless the Centre and the state government abandon ongoing combing operations against the Maoists.

 An undated photograph shows Italian national Paolo Bosusco (C) posing with a tribal woman. AFP“We have abducted the two foreign tourists and will not release them till the Central and state governments accepted our 13-point charter of demands. We are ready to negotiate with the government,” said Sabyasachi Panda, senior naxal leader in charge of Maoists’ operations in Odisha, in an audio tape given to media houses on Sunday.

The Italian Embassy in New Delhi has rushed a high-power official team to Odisha to take stock of the situation. Soon after arrival here in the afternoon, the team headed by Joel Melchiori, the Italian Consul-General based in Kolkata, drove straight to the state secretariat to have a closed-door meeting with the home secretary.

The Italian team is expected to stay here till the tourists are released. A senior Italian official said, “Our government has taken the incident very seriously.”

Panda has said if the governments refuses to concede their demands, “we will kill both foreigners and the government will be responsible for their elimination.” His audio came as the ultras’ deadline of Sunday evening to stop the combing operations expired.

The naxals were still holding the two foreigners—Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Kelanjelo—hostage at the time of writing this report, despite Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s appeal to release them. The ultras, however, have set free two residents of Puri who were accompanying the tourists.

This is for the fist time the left wing extremists have kidnapped foreign nationals, since the beginning of the Maoists’ movement in India almost three decades ago.
Though the incident took place on Saturday, it came to light only on Sunday morning when Panda issued the audio tape.

Subsequently, the state government confirmed the kidnapping. “Two Italian tourists have been kidnapped by the Maoists. The incident took place on Saturday. We are looking into the matter,” state home secretary U N Behera said.

 Refuting Behra’s statement, Kandhamal Collector Rajesh Prabhakar Patil said on Sunday evening that the Italian tourists were abducted on Wednesday, March 14, and not on Saturday (March 17). This has added another twist to the kidnapping drama.

The Maoists have charged that the foreigners were clicking photographs of tribals inside the forests, defying a government ban.

“The government has imposed a ban on foreign tourists in the tribal areas. The ban is not being implemented properly. “The Centre and the state government are using the tribals as show-pieces to attract foreign tourists, which will not be tolerated,” Panda warned.

The two Italians left Puri on March 12 on a trekking expedition in the forests of Kandhamal district along with two local people—Kartik Parida and Santosh Moharana.
Bosusco is suspected to be illegally running a tour agency in Puri for many years. He holds a multi-purpose visa. Santosh was working with him. Parida, a small shop-keeper, had gone with them to cook food. Chief Secretary Bijoy Patnaik as well as Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Jainarayan Pankaj said the tourists had ignored people’s advice not to enter the forest as it is a highly Naxal-infested pocket.

Naveen Patnaik who held a high-level emergency meeting soon after news of the kidnapping reached the capital, described it as a heinous act.

Sources in the chief minister’s secretariat said he held telephonic discussions with Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.

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