Grappling with the twin hostage crisis involving a BJD MLA and an Italian, the Odisha government was on Thursday tightlipped despite an ultimatum by Maoist-backed mediators to withdraw from negotiations for the release of an Italian if the state government did not concede three demands of the Maoists by Friday evening.
Though Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held closed door meetings with BJD MLAs from Koraput district, senior police officers and home department officials, there was no word from government on the progress made in the hostage crisis involving a lawmaker and an Italian.
“The chief minister will give a statement in the assembly tomorrow (Friday). We should not speak anything outside as the assembly is in session,” Chief Secretary B.K. Patnaik told reporters after a four-hour meeting.
The state government suffered a setback in its effort to free abducted BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka as Maoists turned down a request by chief minister to name their negotiators for talks to resolve the crisis.
While the government had no information on the fate of the Laxmipur MLA abducted on March 24, Italian Paolo Basusco continued to remain in Maoist captivity since March 14.
The chief minister who had been briefing the assembly on developments on the hostage crisis on daily basis, skipped the drill today, while no one raised the issue in the house.
Accusing Odisha government of being indifferent towards the Italian hostage crisis, Maoist mediators threatened to withdraw from talks if no response is received on the demands of the rebels by Friday evening.
“The state government is maintaining an indifferent attitude towards talks for the release of the Italian. We may say goodbye to the process if the government does not respond by tomorrow (Friday) evening,” Maoist-nominated mediators B.D. Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty told reporters on the Italian issue.
The negotiation was suspended for the second time on Wednesday after the chief minister claimed to have received additional demands from abductors of Puri-based Italian tour operator Paolo Bosusco.
“We have been negotiating with the state government for the last five days. But there had been no progress. Finally we have sought intervention of the chief minister and he is now taking time,” Sharma said.
As 54-year-old Bosusco completed a fortnight in Maoist captivity since abduction from Kandhamal on March 14, Dandapani Mohanty asked the state government to fulfil at least three demands for immediate release of the Italian.
The three demands are: assurance to initiate criminal action against police officers involved in fake encounters, custodial death and rape, release of persons re-arrested by police after being acquitted in different cases and release of people booked on charge of Maoist activities.
“We have already informed Home Secretary U.N. Behera about three basic demands of Maoists for the release of Bosusco,” Mohanty said.
“The ball is now in the government’s court,” he said.
Terming as “misleading and unfortunate” the chief minister’s claim that some additional demands had been made by the Maoists, Sharma and Mohanty said no fresh demand had been added to the 13 conditions put forward earlier.
Both Sharma and Mohanty said the state government must be sincere and serious about resolving the hostage crisis instead of adopting an indifferent approach.
The situation was equally hazy in Laxmipur MLA’s abduction episode. While the state government was waiting for the abductors of the 37-year-old MLA to name their mediators, Koraput-Srikakulam division of CPI (Maoist) in a letter released to the media stuck to its stand of not holding talks through mediators to resolve the hostage crisis.
The letter asked the government to fulfil at the earliest their demands which include a halt to all types of anti-Maoist operation, release of jailed rebels and stoppage of rallies and demonstrations for the release of the MLA.
The government would be held responsible for any eventuality in case there was delay and attempt to buy time, the letter, addressed to chief minister, wife of the abducted legislator and several other leaders, said.
The communication came after the chief minister on Tuesday night made a fresh request to the ultras to join the negotiation process to resolve the issue and name representatives quickly.