Bhubaneswar: The Maoists on Wednesday welcomed ‘certain steps’ taken by the Odisha government to meet their demands for exchange of Italian national Paolo Bosusco. However, the fate of Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka held by another Naxal group is still in the lurch as another deadline set by Maoists ended on Tuesday.

In a fresh audio tape, leader of the Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist) Sabyasachi Panda announced to free Boscusco (abducted on March 14) if the government honoured its agreement signed with the negotiators. However, the Maoist leader did not indicate as to when, where and how the Italian national could be freed. According to sources, the fresh tape also claimed that the Italian tourist himself wants the government to release one tribal woman before he is freed.

Panda's message was significant as it came a day after release of his wife Subhashree Das alias Mili Panda from jail following her acquittal by a Gunupur fast track court due to lack of evidences. Subhashree was arrested and jailed in 2010 in connection with an encounter case between Naxals and securitymen at Kutinguda forest in Rayagada district.

The Maoist leader said mass organisations like Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) should also be allowed to function freely without any restriction or ban in a democracy, while alleged atrocities by the police must end.

Panda yet to receive message from govt, mediators

He also condemned Odisha Police Association opposing release of certain 'hardcore' Maoists. Panda had on Tuesday claimed that he was yet to receive a copy of the joint statement signed by government representatives and the Maoist mediators on April 7.

Meanwhile, there was no word from another group, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee holding the BJD MLA which had sought immediate release of 30 people and their presence for a swap. The deadline for meeting its demands ended on Tuesday.

While Bosusco, a Puri-based Italian tour operator was kidnapped along with another Italian Claudio Colangelo by the Maoists while trekking in the tribal-dominated Kandhamal region on March 14, 37-year-old Hikaka was taken hostage by a different Naxal group in Koraput district on March 24.

Though Colangelo (61) was released by the abductors on March 25 as a "goodwill gesture", Bosusco (54) continues to be in the captivity of Maoists for nearly a month.

Fate of tourist in doldrums

As there was no clear information about the fate of the two hostages, anxieties prevailed among the family members and near and dear ones.

Making a fresh appeal to both groups of ultras to free Hikaka and Bosusco immediately, unharmed and in good health, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said yesterday, "Certain legal process has to be followed for 27 detenus whose names were announced five days ago."

The state government has asked both Maoist groups to move bail for release of those in jails instead of seeking their release right away.

Twist in the hostage crisis

The hostage crisis became murkier by the threat of the police to boycott anti-Maoist operations if hardcore ultras like Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused in the killing of at least 55 police personnel, were freed by the government for the hostages.

The home secretary said, "The state government has agreed to facilitate release of 27 detenus of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and CPI (Maoist). Their names have been announced and judicial process involved in the matter has been clarified."

On the demand by the Maoists that the MLA's wife go to Balipeta village in Koraput district with released CMAS and Maoists, Behera said, "It is advised that steps be taken on behalf of the 23 detainees to file their bail petitions."

On the warning by the Odisha Police Association and Havildar and Constable Mahasangh to boycott anti-Naxal operations if hardcore Maoists were freed, he said the Chief Minister had already made it clear that whatever action would be taken would be within the framework of law.

The Home Secretary said bail petitions in respect of those who sought to be released from jail for the Italian's freedom should also be moved.