Anti-Maoist operations halted to free the two kidnapped Italians. Orissa Government criticised
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - The central government of India has given indications that the anti-Maoist operations in Orissa are to be halted to allow state authorities to negotiate with the revolutionary group for the release of two Italian tourists kidnapped five days ago. Sources tell AsiaNews that the Maoists are frustrated by the lack of honesty of the Government of Orissa in implementing the agreements signed with them.
To halt military operations against the Maoists (or Naxalites) is a pre-condition for release of the two Italians. Paolo Bosusco, 54, manager of a tourist agency, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, physician and volunteer operator, were captured March 14 by a group of 30 Maoists who accuse them of trying to take pictures of some tribal women as they were bathing in the district of Kandhamal.
The news of their kidnapping only spread on March 17, with an audio message in which the Maoists asked the Orissa state government to resume dialogue with them, blocked for nearly a year and to release political prisoners.
With the two Italians two Indians, Sontosh Moharana and Kartik Parida, had been kidnapped but were later released. Moharana Parida is a cook and a helper. They accompanied two Italians to a tribal area that the State had forbidden tourists to visit. Moharana said that "about 30 Maoists have taken them on March 14 morning, while I was preparing food in the forest near Gazalbadi a river. They blindfolded us and made us walk for five kilometers. We had done no wrong and they treated me well. "
Jayanarayan Pankaj, the head of the state police, confirmed that "foreigners are doing well. We hope that the Maoists will release them soon."
A messages disseminated by the local Maoist chief, Sabyasachi Panda said that the two foreigners were taking "ugly pictures of tribals" and criticized the tourists, demanding an end to "repression" of the tribals, who are "treated like monkeys and chimpanzees." For decades, Maoists have claimed to act in defence of the tribal, exploited, marginalized and forgotten by the caste system, used only to boost the tourism industry and their lands expropriated by the government.
The police, however, doubts the truth of these accusations against the Italians, saying that Paolo Bosusco was on a trek and not taking photographs. Moreover, "in the Kandhamal area there are no naked tribal, to take such embarrassing photographs." Bosusco, who has visited Orissa for the past 19 years, has a profound understanding of local cultures and speaks the Oriya language.
To deal with the Maoist rebels, the government has sought the help of Dandapani Mohanty, a Maoist sympathizer, who has acted as mediator in the release of a government representative of Malkangiri, R Vineel Krishna, kidnapped a year ago.
Mohanty has asked the Maoists to postpone the ultimatum, which expired at midnight last night.
The Governor of the State of Orissa (chief minister), Naveen Patnaik, has condemned the kidnapping and demanded the release of two Italians, stating that "the government of Orissa is open to any kind of negotiation with the kidnappers, within the law. " He asks the "far left extremists do not take any drastic action" because "no one could forgive such an act in a civilized society."
According to the government, the abduction by the Maoists has two purposes: to free Panda's wife, Subhasree Das, imprisoned along with other rebels to assert Sabyasachi Panda's supremacy on all Maoists, overshadowed by the successes of Maoist operations in Andhra Pradesh.
AsiaNews sources in Orissa, however, point the finger at another issue: the government's insensitivity to the demands of Maoist groups that despite ideological discrepancies defend the lives of the tribals.
"This situation has been created by the Orissa government and the Maoists are trying to highlight their plight before the international public opinion. The 14 points presented as a condition for the release of two Italians are the same that the Government had agreed to a year ago after the release of Krishna. The rebels have respected the agreement, the government has not. They had demanded the release of some tribals from prison, but the government has not done so.
The problem is that the Partanik government is anti-tribal and anyone who speaks out against government policies is accused of being Maoist and imprisoned. Last December, a tribal criticsed the government choices and the RSS (Rashtriya Savayansevak Sangh, a group of militants armed Hindu radicals) and was immediately imprisoned. In fact the government is indifferent to the tribal and suppresses all opposition accusing them of Maoism. The abduction of Krishna a year ago, was not for personal reasons, but only because he was the symbol of oppression to the tribal government. "
(Nirmala Carvalho collaborated)