Indian Maoists have released one of two Italian hostages abducted last week in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. The released Italian tourist says he was treated well by the rebels.
Claudio Colangelo was captured by the Maoist rebels last week along with Paolo Bosusco in the forests of Daringibadi, a scenic spot in the poverty-ridden district of Kandhamal, a Maoist stronghold.
"It was a negative experience because you get your life stolen,” Colangelo told the media after his release, “but to be honest, they treated us as well as possible in the given conditions," he added.
The Italian tourist hoped his compatriot Paolo would also be released soon. “I hope they will understand he has nothing to do with this war," Colangelo said.
On Tuesday, a local Maoist leader known as Sunil released an audio message saying the Italians were "fine and being properly looked after; they are getting good food."
The message came after Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's announcement on Monday that the authorities were willing to open talks.
"I once again most earnestly urge the Maoist rebels to release the two Italian nationals immediately and unharmed and also stop violence and other unlawful activities," he said in a statement.
A long list of demands
The Maoist rebels have called for a halt to the Indian government's counter-insurgency operations in Maoist areas. They have also demanded the government scrap its deals with multi-national companies in relation to land transfer, and various other development projects in the Maoist areas; compensation for the families of the Maoist activists, who have allegedly been killed in police custody; and release of about 600 political prisoners.
The rebels also accused the foreigners of taking photographs of members of indigenous communities and defying a government ban.
"The government has imposed a ban on foreign tourists in tribal areas. The ban is not being implemented properly. Both the central and state governments are using the tribal people as 'show-pieces' to attract foreign tourists. This will not be tolerated," Panda said in his original message.
The latest incident is the first case of foreigners being abducted by the left-wing rebels in India, adding a whole new dimension to their tactics. In the past, Maoists have kidnapped mostly local officials and police officers, who they usually freed after negotiations with the authorities.
India's Maoists, who are believed to have around 10,000 to 15,000 supporters, have a considerable influence in at least 10 Indian states.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the rural poor, but the Indian government accuses them of being involved in terrorist activities and extortion.
"How else can one explain their expanding influence?" analyst Jagdish Lala told Deutsche Welle, adding, "They have arms, ammunition and money, and their network is spreading."
According to some political observers, the Maoists, also known as the Naxalites, have used rural poverty and deprivation to increase their influence in tribal areas.
Despite the fact that the Indian government has deployed around 10,000 armed personnel in the state, it has not been able to curb violence.
In 2010, the Indian government unleashed a massive military crackdown on Maoist rebels in five central and eastern states. But recently, the Indian government has attempted to adopt an integrated approach of using force against the insurgents and simultaneously initiating development programs to win over the people.
Author: Murali Krishnan (dpa, RTRE)
Editor: Shamil Shams / jrb