Maoists abduct two Italians in Odisha (Fourth Lead)

March 18th, 2012 - 9:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, March 18 (IANS) Leftwing rebels abducted two Italians in India’s eastern Odisha state, an official said Sunday. One of the Italians was living in the state for years and running a tour agency that took foreigners into tribal-inhabited forested areas.

“Two Italians have been abducted by Maoists. It happened Saturday,” state Home Secretary U.N. Behera told reporters Sunday.

The two Italians are Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo.

The Maoists, in an audio message sent to local media in the wee hours of Sunday, said the tourists were kidnapped at the border of Ganjam and the communally sensitive Kandhamal district.

They demanded that the government stop anti-Maoist combing operations and fulfil their demands.

The abduction has brought to light the issue of unauthorized visits of foreign tourists to tribal areas. The state government last month had imposed restriction on the visit of foreign tourists and researchers to the areas inhabited by tribals.

One of the Italians was living in the coastal beach town of Puri for the past several years and illegally running a tour agency to facilitate the visit of foreigners to the tribal areas, local officials said.

A Maoist calling himself Sabyasachi Panda said in the audio message, “We have imprisoned two Italian tourists.”

The Maoist leader in the audio tape said they had enough evidence that the tour operators bribed the administration to allow foreigners to visit the interior areas despite a ban.

“We have apprehended two Italian tourists who like hundreds of foreign tourists are encouraged by the government to visit tribal areas, treat the tribals as monkeys, chimpanzees and objects of ridicule,” he stated.

“We appeal people to raise their voice against such inhuman practices,” the Maoist leader stated.

“If the government wants to see them free, it should halt combing operations. We also want the government to fulfil a charter of 13 demands it had promised last year,” he said.

The demands included halting of anti Maoist operation, scrapping of accords with MNCs for land transfer and projects, compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody and release of about 600 prisoners.

Meanwhile, India Sunday informed Italy of the efforts being made by the Odisha government for early release of the two Italian nationals as External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna spoke to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik about the evolving situation.

Patnaik informed Krishna of the ongoing efforts being made by his government for an early release of the abducted Italian nationals.

A senior police officer from Kandhamal said the Italians were seen a few days ago in Daringibadi police station areas. “Police had warned them not to venture into the interior areas for security reasons, but they appeared to have defied the instruction,” he said.

Kandhamal district collector Rajesh Prabhakar Patil said the tourists were abducted from Daringbadi area of the district.

According to a local television channel report, both the tourists were men and were picked up by the rebels while roaming inside the forest, taking photographs of some tribal women.

Chief Minister Patnaik, who reviewed the situation with top police and administrative officials Sunday, has appealed to the Maoists to release the two Italians and hold a dialogue with the government.

Describing the abduction as unacceptable, Patnaik said the tourists should be released on humanitarian grounds.

“I appealed to the leftwing extremists to release them immediately on humanitarian grounds,” Patnaik told reporters here. “The government of Odisha is open to negotiations,” he said.

Patnaik said the ministry of external affairs and union home ministry had been informed.

Maoists are active in more than half of the state’s 30 districts and the district of Kandhamal is considered a stronghold.

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