Bhubaneswar: The Italian still held captive by Maoists in Odisha is in good health, but the government should fulfil their demands - including banning tourist visits to tribal areas - to secure his release, the rebels said on Monday, a day after freeing another Italian.

In an interview to local television channel OTV aired Monday, Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda who claimed responsibility for the March 14 abduction of both tourists said Italian Bosusco Paolo would be released only after the rebels feel the government is serious about their demands.

Saying Paolo was in good health, Panda assured he would not come to any harm.Panda, who also calls himself 'Sunil', said his cadres Sunday released Italian Claudio Colangelo on humanitarian ground and as a goodwill gesture following an appeal from a cross-section of society.

He said the rebels wanted to send a positive message by releasing one of the hostages and all the demands made by the rebels were genuine. Panda said he wants a ban on tourist visits to tribal areas."Foreigners or Indians, nobody should be allowed to visit tribal areas. we should not treat tribals like wildlife...a monkey or a chimpanzee in zoo," Panda said.

 "We have exposed the government's policy which brings in tourists who treat tribals as commodities for tourism," he added. Panda also said the Maoists are not indulging in violence on their own. "We are not doing violence of our own. The government is forcing us to do that. The government wants us to stay us in the forests because we are fighting for the poor," he said.

The guerrillas had abducted Paolo, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61 from a forested area on the border of Ganjam and Kandhamal districts March 14. On Saturday, the rebels also kidnapped ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator and a popular tribal leader Jhina Hikaka, 37, in a hilly area of Koraput district.

While the rebels Sunday released Colangelo, the other Italian and the BJD legislature are still in their captivity.  However, Panda who claims to be the organising committee secretary of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), said he is not responsible for the abduction of the legislature as it has not been done by his group.

No news on abducted BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka

Bhubaneswar:  Though two days have passed since the Maoists abducted ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka, the Odisha government is yet to receive any information on the whereabouts of the young tribal legislator.
"No demand has yet been received from the abductors for the release of this young MLA," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the Assembly in a statement on the abduction of two Italian nationals and the MLA.

While the police and the state government had no information about the whereabouts of Hikaka, top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda told a TV channel that a different group was behind the kidnapping of Hikaka.

The Srikakulam-Koraput division of the CPI (Maoist), now headed by Dayanidhi, was suspected to have been behind the abduction of the MLA, police sources said, adding a group of local journalists were in touch with the abductors for the safe release of Hikaka.

Two senior ministers S N Patro and ST, SC Development minister Lal Behari Himirika, meanwhile, visited Hikaka's family at Laxmipur in Koraput district.

Sources said the state government was also exploring back channel negotiation with the Maoists as well as leaders of the Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) in order to secure safe release of Hikaka.

Hikaka's wife Kausalya and his two minor sons have appealed to the abductors to release him. "My husband has worked a lot for the welfare of tribals. The abductors should release him immediately without delay," Kausalya said.

Hikaka was abducted by unknown ultras while returning from Koraput to his home at Laxmipur at about 1 am of March 24. The opposition Congress blamed the chief minister for the incident.

"Hikaka, who played a leading role in the formation of Zilla Parishad in Koraput district, has been abducted as the state government failed to honour the 10-point charter of demands made by Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), allegedly backed by Maoists," claimed leader of opposition Bhupinder Singh of Congress.