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Thursday, April 12, 2012 11:00:40 AM (IST)  

Maoists Release Italian Hostage, MLA Still Missing

Bhubaneswar, Apr 12 (IANS): Maoists Thursday released Italian tour operator Bosusco Paolo after keeping him in captivity for nearly a month, officials said as the fate of another hostage, Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator Jhina Hikaka, continued to remain uncertain.

"We are relieved that the second Italian hostage who was taken hostage by Maoists is now here at Bhubaneswar at our state guest house," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told reporters.

A crowd of photographers waited to capture the moment as a clean shaven Paolo came out of his room along with officials of Italian embassy in India and waved his hands.

Dressed in a white shirt, he said "I am fine, I am well" in Oriya.

Dandapani Mohanty, a Maoist-backed mediator who received the hostage from the Maoists in a forested area of Kandhamal district, around 200 km from here, said Paolo was released at about 5 a.m.

"I have already handed him over to the government," Mohanty told reporters, explaining why he drove directly to Bhubaneswar without meeting the reporters or police and local administration in the region.

He said the rebels were still not happy with the government. "They want the government to release all the innocent tribals from jails."

Several senior police and officials of the Italian embassy in India met Paolo in the guesthouse and enquired about his health.

Paolo had been kidnapped March 14 with another Italian, Claudio Colangelo, from a forested area of Kandhamal district.

The rebel group led by Sabyasachi Panda had released Colangelo 11 days later as a "goodwill gesture" but had been insisting that the government release at least seven prisoners in exchange for the second Italian.

Paolo's release comes two days after a court acquitted Panda's wife Subhashree Das, one of those whose release had been sought by the Maoists. She had been accused of involvement in a gunbattle between police and Maoists in 2003.

However, the fate of Hikaka, who has been in the captivity of another group of rebels since March 24, is still uncertain as the rebels refuse to release him unless their demands are met.

Jagabandhu, the spokesperson of the group, said in a statement written in Telugu and sent to reporters here Wednesday: "We will not release Hikaka unless the government releases all the 30 persons we demanded."

While Paolo was abducted by the Odisha unit of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) from Kandhamal district, Hikaka was kidnapped by the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee from Koraput district.

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