India to free Maoists for abducted Orissa politician

Jhina Hikaka
Image caption Jhina Hikaka was kidnapped on 23 March

The government of the eastern Indian state of Orissa has offered to free 27 Maoists and their supporters in exchange for the release of a state legislator and an Italian tourist.

The rebels abducted Jhina Hikaka and Paolo Bosusco in separate incidents last month.

They set a Thursday deadline for the activists and members of a tribal group to be freed in exchange for Mr Hikaka.

The rebels have not yet reacted to the government offer.

Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik told the state assembly on Wednesday that the government had decided to "facilitate the release" of 15 members of a tribal group and eight Maoist rebels who are currently in prison.

The government also offered to release four of the seven people whose release had been demanded by the rebels in exchange for the release of Mr Bosusco.

Mr Patnaik appealed to the rebels to release the two men "immediately, unharmed and in good health".

Mr Hikaka was kidnapped on 23 March while returning home from a meeting.

Earlier that month, Italians Paolo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, were seized while trekking in a tribal area of Orissa, one of several regions of India where Maoist rebels are active.

It was the first kidnap of foreigners by Maoists in Orissa state.

Mr Colangelo was released on 25 March but Mr Bosusco remains held.

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 a communist state and for the rights of tribal people and the rural poor.

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