Panda offers hope for Italian, but Hikaka’s abductors stick to demand

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda on Wednesday issued another audiotape offering a ray of hope for release of Italian citizen Basusco Paolo (55), still under rebels’ captivity.
On the other hand, the rebels who abducted MLA Jhina Hikaka stuck to their demand that Hikaka would be released only if 30 prisoners were released by the government.

Panda, in his audiotape to the media, said he had yet to receive the joint agreement between mediators but got information from reliable sources that the Odisha government had made its stand clear on the Maoists’ 13-point demand.

“We had asked for release of seven people. The government has agreed to facilitate release of five. We welcome the steps taken by the government,” Panda said.

Though the rebel leader did not specify when they would release Paolo, he said the Italian’s release process would be easier if the government implemented the agreement.

Panda, whose wife Subhashree Panda was acquitted by a fast track court in connection with an encounter case on Wednesday, made it clear that he had no more issues with the government. But he slammed the state police saying it worked as “hired goons” (of vested interests) killing poor and innocent people in false encounters in the name of anti-Maoist operations.

“The gang rape of Arati Majhi (one of the persons in the government’s list of 27 to be released in exchange for Paolo and Hikaka) by the policemen is an instance of police atrocities against poor,” he said.

Bail plea for Arati Majhi was on Wednesday moved in a court in Gajapati district. The court reserved the bail petition for Thursday.

Dandapani Mohanty, one of the mediators for Paolo, hoped for his early release. “We have all along appealed Maoists to him. On the other hand, the government should also now show seriousness in implementing people’s agenda in the agreement,” he told Hindustan Times.

Later in the day, Jagabandhu, spokesperson, Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, sent another letter to the media reiterating their demand for release of 30 Maoists and others in exchange for Hikaka. “If the government resorts to conspiracy, we would decide the fate of Hikaka in a people’s court,” he said.

Talking to reporters in Bhubaneswar, Odisha home secretary UN Behera said the government had made all announcements for the hostages’ release. The rebels should release the hostages as soon as possible, he said.

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