India

Italy 'hopeful' India Maoists will free two tourists

Paolo Bosusco, 18 March 2012
Image caption Mr Bosusco runs an adventure tourism agency in Orissa

Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori is "hopeful" that two Italians kidnapped on Saturday in the Indian state of Orissa would be released.

But he said he was worried that a Sunday deadline set by the rebels for their demands to be met had passed.

The rebels want an end to military operations against them and the release of Maoists in jail.

Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, were seized while trekking in Kandhamal district.

No negotiations have begun yet to secure their release.

Appeal

This is the first time Westerners have been kidnapped in Orissa state by Maoists.

A Maoist spokesman accused the pair of photographing bathing women.

Mr Melchiori told the BBC he was working with the government of Orissa and the local police to find a solution as soon as possible.

"There was an appeal this morning. So we hope the groups which kidnapped the Italian tourists will accept the request of the government," he said.

The state government is considering a temporary halt to all counter-insurgency operations in the four districts of Kandhamal, Ganjam, Gajapati and Rayagada - to encourage the Maoists to start negotiations for the release of the Italians.

The Sunday deadline set by the Maoists has passed but authorities say there are indications it will be extended to facilitate negotiations.

"Illegal"

The Maoists have a strong presence in many eastern states, and have been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's biggest security threat.

The rebels say they are fighting for the introduction of a communist state and for what they say is a more egalitarian society.

Mr Bosusco is said to have lived in the Indian coastal town of Puri for 12 years and runs an adventure tourism agency, which is believed to be unlicensed.

Image caption Main states where Maoist groups operate

The Consul General said he was unaware that Mr Bosusco was running an illegal agency but knew he ran a small tour operation and "brought some people to interior parts of the forest".

Mr Melchiori did confirm that they had advised Italians not to go into those areas because of the situation but "we can't control everything that a citizen does".

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik called the abduction a "heinous crime".

"The government is ready for any kind of negotiations under the law, but they should first release the two men," Mr Patnaik said.

Orissa home secretary UN Behera told the BBC that they had information the two abducted Italians were safe, but they have not yet had any direct contact with the kidnappers.

The Orissa government recently imposed severe restrictions on the movement of tourists, especially foreign tourists, inside areas inhabited by tribes people.

Sabyasachi Panda, the organising secretary of the state committee of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, said the rebels wanted an end to the "repression" of tribes people, who he said were being "exhibited like monkeys and chimpanzees".

The men's abduction comes at a time of strained relations between Italy and India.

They have been involved in a diplomatic dispute since Indian police arrested two Italian marines a month ago in the southern port of Kochi. The pair are accused of killing two Indian fishermen.

More on this story