Maoists abduct two Italian tourists for taking ‘objectionable’ tribal photos
BHUBANESWAR: Efforts to ensure safe release of two Italian tourists abducted by Maoists in Odisha’s Kandhamal district did not yield result till Sunday evening, even as external affairs minister S M Krishna spoke to chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Italy’s consul general in Kolkata Joel Melchiori met state government officers here.
Maoists have claimed responsibility for kidnapping Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo from a forest on the Kandhamal-Ganjam border on March 14 and demanded the state government to fulfill their demands by Sunday evening. The matter came to the fore on Saturday night following the extremists letting off Sontosh Moharana, a cook, and Kartik Parida, a helper, who had accompanied the Italian duo.
“Around 30 Maoists took us hostage on March 14 morning when we were preparing food near a stream in Gazalbadi forests. They took us blindfolded and made us walk for about five kilometres,” Moharana told journalists in Puri. “Maoists did not cause any harm to us and treated us well,” he added.
Kandhamal SP Jayanarayan Pankaj told TOI: “We have information the foreigners are safe. We hope Maoists would release them soon.”
This is the first time Maoists have targeted foreigners in Odisha, sparking hectic deliberations at the Central and state government levels. Naveen condemned the kidnapping and appealed to the abductors to free the foreigners on humanitarian ground. “Odisha government is open to any kind of negotiation with the kidnappers under the law,” he said. “I reiterate my appeal to the Left-wing extremists not to take any drastic step. I also condemn this heinous crime. No one will condone this kind of act in a civil society,” he added.
Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik said Maoists abducted the Italian tourists while they were on a trekking tour on the Kandhamal-Ganjam border. The tourists had gone from Puri on a vehicle and entered the forests on the Kandhamal-Ganjam border ignoring warnings of Maoist problems by Daringbadi police station, he said.
Police sources said the Italians, Moharana and Parida reached Daringbadi on March 12 and ventured into the forest. The vehicle driver, Debendra Mohapatra, dropped the guests and returned.
In audio tapes circulated to TV channels, secretary, Odisha State Organising Committee, Sabyasachi Panda said the foreigners were kidnapped while allegedly taking objectionable photographs of tribals in remote areas despite a state government ban on such activities. Police doubted such claims, saying according to their information Paolo was into trekking, not photography. “Moreover, Kandhamal does not have semi-nude tribals, whose photography can raise objections,” a cop added.
Paolo has been staying in Puri since 19 years and is associated with a private tour agency, Odisha Adventure Trekking. He speaks decent Odia, police sources said. “Paolo has been frequently taking foreigners on trekking trips to Kandhamal and other areas in Odisha. We are doing whatever best can be done to ensure safe and quick release of the tourists,” said DGP Mannmohan Praharaj.
Maoists demanded, among others, immediate halt to anti-extremist operations; withdrawal of cases against over 672 tribals lodged in jails ‘branded as Maoists’; ban on ‘objectionable photography’ of tribals; remunerative prices to Daringbadi turmeric farmers; release of incarcerated Gananath Patra, Subhashree Panda (Sabyasachi’s wife) and Junus Pradhan; implementation of the ‘agreement’ between Maoists and the state government for release of the then Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi in February, 2011.
Dandapani Mohanty, who was one of three interlocutors who negotiated Krishna’s release, appealed to Maoists to extend the deadline to allow the state government time to stop anti-Maoist operations and said he was willing to mediate if both sides approach him.