BHUBANESWAR, March 20 (IANS): The hostage crisis in Odisha deepened Tuesday, six days after two Italian nationals were abducted by Maoists, with one of the three interlocutors saying he did not want to mediate on behalf of the guerrillas.
Human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, amongst those appointed as interlocutors by the Maoists, told reporters he would consider the proposal if both the government and the government wanted him to perform the role.
Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo were abducted on the morning of March 14 from Kandhamal district.
A rebel leader calling himself Sunil, the name used by Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda,
had announced three names through an audio message sent to some selected journalists late Monday. The mediators are Narayan Sanyal, a senior rebel leader lodged in the Giridih jail of Jharkhand, social activist Dandapani Mohanty and Kanungo. Mohanty and Kanungo belong to Odisha.
The rebels have also announced a unilateral ceasefire and have appealed to other Maoists operating along the state border not to indulge in violence.
He also said the deadline for the state government to respond to their offer was March 20 evening. On Sunday morning, the rebels had set March 18 evening as the deadline.
The rebels said the hostages were safe and were regularly being given food and rest. The state government has not yet responded to the latest Maoist offer.
According to eyewitnesses, Paolo and Colangelo had gone with two Indians, Santosh Moharana and Kartika Parida, both residents of Puri, to Kandhamal on March 12 on a trekking trip.
On March 14 morning, about six to seven people came with guns when they were sitting near a rivulet. The rebels took the four to the forest after tying their hands and covering their eyes with a cloth.
The rebels released Kartik and Santosh March 16 but kept the Italians hostage.
Early Sunday, Maoists said in a message that the Italians had been kidnapped after they were found taking 'objectionable' photographs of some tribal women near a rivulet.
They demanded that the government stop anti-Maoist combing operations and fulfil their demands, including those it had promised last year for the safe release of the hostages.
Amongst the demands in the list is halting of anti-Maoist operations, 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.
In the latest demands, they said tribals are not commodities and tribal areas not a place for tourists to visit. The rebels said the government should declare this clearly and arrest and punish those who violated the rule.
Other demands of the rebel included release of all anti-displacement leaders who have been arrested for raising their voices against various industrial projects, including Posco and Vedanta.
The latest abduction appears to be the first case of foreigners being abducted by rebels in the state.
Maoists are active in more than half of the state's 30 districts and the district of Kandhamal is considered a stronghold.