Italian tourists kidnapped in India
BHUBANESWAR, India, March 18, 2012 (AFP) – Maoist rebels have kidnapped two Italian tourists in eastern India, police said Sunday, in what is believed to be the first abduction of foreigners by the left-wing militants.
The Italians were seized in scenic, poverty-stricken Orissa state last Wednesday along with two Indians who were freed early Sunday, police said.
The Indians said the Maoists had pledged not to hurt the foreigners, an Italian Foreign Office spokesman in Rome said.
“We do not have any information at this point as to how they are or in what condition they are being held,” the spokesman said.
The Indian hostages said the rebels “had promised they would not harm the Italian tourists”, according to the spokesman who cautioned that “kidnap cases abroad are highly sensitive issues which take time to resolve”.
Orissa is one of a string of states where Maoist rebels have been waging a decades-long armed battle to overthrow the government.
The state’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik appealed for the release of the hostages, Paolo Bosusco, 54, from Turin and Claudio Colangelo, 61, from Rome, on “humanitarian grounds”.
Police said the Maoists had issued a set of demands but would not disclose them.
However, a tape purportedly from the Maoists from a man identifying himself as Sabyasachi Panda, one of the rebels top leaders, was obtained by AFP and other Indian media outlets.
The tape asks for an end to a drive by authorities to root out Maoists from the state and demands the release from jail of hundreds of people “falsely charged” as Maoists. Panda’s wife is also currently in jail.
Police could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the tape.
The Italians were abducted from Daringbadi area of Kandhamal district, 250 kilometres (150 miles) southwest of the state capital, police said.
Bosusco had been living in the city of Puri in Orissa for a decade and was running an adventure tourism company, Indian police said.
Colangelo is a doctor who works in a research institute in Rome and is married and has two grown-up children, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Senior regional police officer Radha Krishna Sharma told AFP the men asked police last Monday to be allowed to travel around Kandhamal, but authorities denied permission, citing the risk of Maoist violence.
“After that the two men and their Indian assistants were found roaming in these areas and on Wednesday, while they were taking a bath near a coffee plantation, Maoists abducted them,” Sharma said.
Sharma said the militants freed the two Indian hostages unconditionally.
“This is the first time any foreigner has been kidnapped by Maoists,” Sharma added.
In the past, the guerrillas have only kidnapped local officials and villagers, freeing some after negotiations with authorities, experts said. Some other people kidnapped by the Maoists have been found brutally killed.
Ajai Sahni, head of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, agreed this was the first time the rebels had kidnapped foreigners.
“It is not clear yet if this is a rogue operation by a maverick leader or if it is a strategic move by the central Maoist authority,” Sahni told AFP.
“Maoists have suffered tremendous attrition of leadership in recent years, so this presents an opportunity to get some of their leaders out of jail.”
The Indian government has described the Maoist movement, which often targets police and soldiers with deadly roadside mine ambushes, as the country’s biggest internal security threat.
In 2010, the insurgents — who have toeholds in over 20 of India’s 29 states — were blamed for derailing an Indian train, killing at least 80 people.
The insurgency, which began in 1967, feeds off land disputes, police brutality and corruption, and is strongest in the poorest and most deprived areas of India, many of which are rich in natural resources.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribal people and landless farmers and their ultimate goal is to capture India’s cities and overthrow parliament.
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