As the deadline set by the abductors of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka and Italian tour guide Paolo Bosusco ends on Tuesday, the chances of an early solution to the twin hostage crises in Odisha appeared to have receded with both the Maoist groups placing new conditions for the duo’s release from captivity.
While the release of Italian Paolo Bosusco became uncertain with the Maoists asking the state government to ‘clarify’ how many ultras would be freed, another group of Naxals holding Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage also wanted immediate release of 30 people.
A day after the Maoist group holding the 37-year-old MLA hostage asked his wife to reach a village in Koraput district tomorrow along with 30 freed prisoners for release of Hikaka, the state government today remained tight-lipped on the issue.
In a letter released last night to the media, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of the Maoists not only sought an immediate release of more number of prisoners, but also their physical presence for the MLA’s release.
The ultras wanted Hikaka’s wife Kaushalya to reach Balipeta in the Naxal-hit Narayanpatna area tomorrow along with 30 rebels, including 23 people whose release the Odisha government had decided to facilitate and seven more rebels.
The letter, bearing the name of a senior Maoist leader and addressed to the media, said the MLA’s wife should also be accompanied by two Naxal-nominated mediators – B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty – engaged in the Italian hostage crisis and Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik.
One of the Maoist-nominated mediators B D Sharma had meanwhile left the state capital for Delhi.
The Maoists said they would hand over the abducted MLA to them, provided they do not bring along any police or intelligence official.
The letter came a day after the Maoists extended the deadline for fulfilment of their demands till April 10. They had initially fixed April 5 as deadline and then extended it till April 7.
Though Hikaka’s abductors had on April 7 demanded release of five more persons in addition to the 23 agreed by the state government, two more names were added last night.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had earlier said that the government was examining the demand of the MLA’s abductors for release of five more persons.
The state government has agreed to facilitate release of 23 prisoners including 15 members of Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) and eight Maoists.
Hikaka had been abducted in Koraput district while returning home at Laxmipur after attending a meeting in Koraput on March 24.
Lawyer Nihar Patnaik, who fights cases for Maoists, received a copy of the two-page letter in Telugu script, but he said the red rebels had not contacted him so far over this new matter.
Meanwhile, the release of Paolo Bosusco, abducted on March 14, hit roadblocks yesterday with the Maoists asking the state government to first “clarify” how many ultras would be set free and how many of its 13 demands would be met.
Odisha State Organising Committee secretary Sabyasachi Panda in an audio message to the media said they had demanded release of seven persons and the government had earlier agreed to release six, but finally said it would free only five.
“This has created suspicion and the government should make it clear how many are going to be released along with their names,” Panda said and demanded that the government clarify how many of his group’s 13 demands were accepted.
“There seems to be some confusion. Government negotiators and Maoist-appointed mediators had come to a clear conclusion on April 7. I do hope these will be cleared by them soon,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said after holding an emergency meeting yesterday.
He said the Italian Ambassador had again called him to enquire about Bosusco.