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Talks on release of 2 abducted Italian tourists to continue

(Xinhua)

08:32, March 23, 2012

KOLKATA, India, March 22 (Xinhua) -- There has been no breakthrough in talks between ultra-left Naxals and the Odisha government over the release of two abducted Italian tourists and the demand of Naxals Thursday. The talks will continue Friday though Naxals have named two more mediators.

In an audio tape sent to the media in Bhubaneswar Thursday evening by Odisha Naxal leader Sabyasachi Panda they have named two leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Kobad Gandhi, who is a central committee member and now lodged as an undertrial in a jail in Mumbai, and Amit Bagchi, as mediators along with former bureaucrat and tribal expert B.D. Sharma. The Odisha government was represented in the talks by three senior officials - P.K. Jena, Santosh Sarangi and U.N. Behera.

In a telephone call to select media persons in Bhubaneswar, state capital of Odisha, Wednesday had Panda, urged the government to release five Naxals, including his wife Subhashree Panda, in exchange for an Italian.

In his telephone message he also demanded action against security personnel responsible for alleged staged shootouts and rapes in the state.

"Unless the rebels make it clear who will represent them, it is very difficult to start talks," a senior official in the home department said. The government has not responded to the Naxals' swap offer.

The rebels late Tuesday extended the deadline for the government to accept their demands to Wednesday evening. But the process suffered repeated setbacks over the choice of interlocutors.

Patnaik asked the rebels to suggest alternatives and the Naxals then announced the names of human rights activist Prafulla Samontra and former Indian bureaucrat and tribal expert B.D. Sharma. But Samontra refused to participate, saying he had no faith in the government.

Samontra, who has been agitating against displacements by industrial projects, said the government did trust him or his movement. "There is no meaning talking with the government," he said.

Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo were abducted by Maoists March 14 from Kandhamal district. The government and the rebels said the hostages are safe and in good health.

The Naxals want the government to fulfill a charter of 13 demands including those it had promised last year for the safe release of the hostages.

The demands they had made last year included halting of operations by security forces, scrapping of accords with foreign companies like Koran steel giant Posco and international mining corporate Veadnta for land transfer and projects, compensation for the families of Naxal sympathisers killed in police custody and release of about 600 prisoners.

In the latest demands they said tribals are not commodities and tribal areas are not a place for the visit of tourists. The rebels said the government should declare this clearly and arrest and punish the violators.

Among the other demands of the rebel are 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.

Naxals are active in more than half of the state's 30 districts and the district of Kandhamal is considered a stronghold.

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