Odisha to free 27 for release of 2 hostages

Amid allegations of casualness, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday said the government would set free 27 people from jail in exchange for the release of Italian citizen Basusco Paolo and MLA Jhina Hikaka from Maoist captivity.

Hikaka, our young tribal MLA (of the BJD), our government has decided to facilitate the release of 15 members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and also eight left-wing extremists now lodged in jails in Koraput and Malkangiri districts,” Patnaik said in a statement.

Considering the demands of the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI (Maoist) regarding the release of Paolo, Patnaik also said the state government had decided to facilitate the release of four persons (among the 27).

The names of all the persons to be released would be announced on Thursday, the deadline set by the Maoists who abducted Hikaka.

Talking to HT, former IAS officer and tribal rights activist BD Sharma, who had been mediating for the Italian’s release, said: “Let us see the list first. We have to see whether the names we had suggested figure on the government’s list.”

Since the abduction of Paolo and fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo (60) on March 14 by the OSOC, led by Sabyasachi Panda, in Kandhamal and the capture of Hikaka by the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee on March 24 in Koraput district, the state had been drawing flak for delaying the negotiations process though the demands made by both the groups were almost similar.

On March 25, Panda had released Colangelo as a “goodwill gesture”.

Observers were drawing a contrast between the vigilance showed by the state when IAS officer Vineel Krishna was abducted last year and the present “casualness”.

“Krishna was an IAS officer and the bureaucracy-dominated Naveen Patnaik government apparently left no stone unturned to secure his release. That element is missing now in the case of Paolo and Hikaka,” said rights activist and lawyer Bishwapriya Kanungo, who was the first to decline the mediator’s job.

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