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Odisha talks halted as Maoists seize legislator

Saturday March 24, 2012 07:31:00 PM, IANS

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Maoists abducted a legislator of Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) early Saturday, police said. About 100-150 armed rebels abducted Jhina Hikaka, 37, from a hilly area between Koraput and Laxmipur, about 500 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, police   »

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Bhubaneswar/New Delhi: Talks to secure the release of two Italians abducted 10 days ago by Maoists in Odisha were suspended Saturday after the rebels daringly kidnapped a ruling party legislator and killed a police officer.

The dramatic developments pushed the fate of all three hostages into uncertainty. The government did not say whether it will resume the talks or will it use force against the rebels.

The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) meanwhile accused the Congress-led central government of not cooperating with it to free the Italians, while the Congress said law and order was a state subject.

In an unexpected development, the Maoists kidnapped BJD legislator Jhina Hikaka, 37, early Saturday even as the government held a dialogue with the rebels through their mediators for the release of Italians Bosusco Paolo, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61.

Hikaka, who represents Laxmipur constituency, was returned from Koraput district when his vehicle was stopped shortly after midnight Friday. While holding on to him, the rebels freed his driver and his guard.

Police sources said some 100 rebels were involved in the abduction.

After the abduction, the Maoists left behind a leaflet restating their 13 demands they have set for the release of the Italians and demanded that these should be met at the earliest, police said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, already hit hard by the Italian saga, held meetings with police and other officials. He said his government was handling the latest kidnapping on a crisis mode.

After several hours of discussion for the third consecutive day Saturday, both the government-appointed mediators and the Maoist interlocutors announced the suspension of the dialogue over the legislator's abduction.

But they said were backing off only for now. However, they did not specify when the talks will resume.

Social activist Dandapani Mohanty and tribal expert B.D. Sharma, who were named by the rebels to mediate, blamed both the government and the Maoists for the disruption.

The two told reporters that after the abduction of the Italian tourists, the state committee of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist declared a ceasefire.

The government also promised that there would be no coercive action by the security forces as long as there is no violence from the Maoists.

"But the fact is that while we are discussing in Bhubaneswar, unfortunate incidents of disrupting peace continued in many parts of the state," they said. "We feel that this is a mockery of peaceful talks and negotiations.

"We, therefore, suggest that the negotiation be kept under suspension," they said.

Home Secretary U.N. Behera, one of the negotiators from the government side, said the decision to suspend the talks was taken on the request of the Maoist mediators.

The two Italians were abducted from the border of Ganjam and Kandhamal district March 14.

The rebels have set 13 demands for their release including a ban on the visit of tourists to the tribal areas, halt to anti-Maoist operations, and release of several prisoners.

The rebels earlier shot dead a police sub-inspector in Malkangiri, a Maoist stronghold, late Thursday even as the talks were on.

The incident had an echo in the assembly when Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members created uproar, forcing the speaker Pradip Amat to adjourn it a number of times and finally for the day.

The BJP also asked the central government to wage a war against the Maoists.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the kidnapping of a legislator was a matter of serious concern.

"But the state government is competent to handle the situation and it comes under the state's responsibility.

"The centre has been providing all necessary help whenever the state has asked for it," he added.




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(Photo: Mukesh



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