Fri, Apr 13, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Maoist rebels in India release Italian tour leader

AFP, Bhubaneswar, India

Indian Maoist rebels yesterday released an Italian tour guide who was kidnapped nearly one month ago while trekking in the forests of the eastern state of Orissa.

“I am happy being a free man now. I am tired and need some rest,” Paolo Bosusco, 54, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

Police said Bosusco was being brought out of the thick forests where he was held by the rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of India’s tribal people and landless farmers.

“He is with me at the moment. Together we will travel to the state capital [Bhubaneswar] and there he will be handed over to the authorities,” Dandapani Mohanty, one of the negotiators, said by telephone.

Bosusco was kidnapped on March 14 along with another Italian man, Claudio Colangelo, who was released 11 days later.

The kidnapping was the first time the Maoists, who have waged a decades-long insurgency against India’s state and national governments, have targeted foreigners.

The rebels have in the past kidnapped local officials and villagers, releasing most after negotiations, but killing others.

Bosusco, who runs an adventure holiday company based in Orissa, and Colangelo, a doctor from Rome, were abducted while in the remote district of Kandhamal.

Orissa state assembly lawmaker Jhina Hikaka remains in captivity with another group of Maoists after being taken hostage on March 24.

The rebels have demanded a ban on tourists visiting tribal areas and an end to the government’s anti-rebel operations, as well as the release of prisoners.

The chief minister of Orissa state agreed to free 27 prisoners during negotiations with the Maoists, who threatened “extreme steps” unless their demands were met.

They earlier this week rejected the list of prisoners to be released, and named seven other men they want freed immediately.

Police, who are often targeted by Maoist attacks, had lobbied for a tough stance against the hostage-takers, saying officers would go on strike if authorities caved in.

Bosusco, from Turin, runs the Orissa Adventurous Trekking company, which says on its Web site that it offers holidays to “a different India from the Taj Mahal, far, very far from the crowds of tourists.”

The Maoist guerrillas, described by the government as the country’s most serious internal security threat, often raise funds through extortion and protection rackets.

The insurgency 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.

Italian diplomats were in Orissa during the negotiations with the rebels.

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