The Odisha Government today appealed to BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka's abductors to extend their April 5 deadline and invited the chief of a Maoist-backed outfit for negotiation, even as the rebels rejected the offer.
Inviting Nachika Linga, rebel-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) president, to come forward for talks on the release of Hikaka, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said, "Our government is prepared to hold discussions on the release of certain CMAS members as per their demands."
Indicating that the government was ready to free some rebels in exchange of the 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA, Patnaik said, "I have often requested Maoists to begin negotiations urgently for the release of the MLA."
However, the state government received a message from the rebels that they are not prepared to negotiate, Patnaik said in a statement in the state assembly.
Though Linga, who has been on the run since 2009, had showed willingness to join talks on certain conditions, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoist) (AOBSZC) in an audio message to the media today rejected proposal for talks and set April 5 as the deadline.
Patnaik's statement came hours after AOBSZC asked the Odisha government to fulfil its demands including release of jailed rebels latest by April 5.
A few hours later, a letter purportedly written by Hikaka addressed to chief minister was released to media saying he was safe and pleading that tribals lodged in jails on charge of being Maoists be freed at the earliest so that he could be released unharmed.
"Since I am a tribal, steps for the safety of my life are not being considered seriously," the letter bearing Hikaka's name said, adding that if quick steps are not taken for his release he would be unable to work for development of his area. "If necessary, I will be forced to resign," it said.
The development followed another threat from the Secretary of Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI(Maoist), Sabyasachi Panda whose outfit claimed to have abducted Italian national Paolo Basusco, that the hostage might be harmed if any action was launched.
"We may take the extreme step if the government launches an offensive to release the hostage," he said.
"The government is adopting a dilly-dallying approach to our demands and also planning an operation to free the hostage. The government will be responsible if something wrong happens to the Italian," Panda said in an audio tape released to the media earlier.
Besides his wife, Subhasree, Panda sought release of Maoists Arati Majhi, Kamala Kanta Sethi, Jonesh Pradhan, Sujatha, Suka Nachika and Gananath Patra.
On Panda's demands, the chief minister said a fresh round of discussion had begun yesterday evening with two mediators - B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty. As one of them was away from Bhubaneswar today, talks for the release of Bosusco would be resumed tomorrow, he said.
Earlier on the day, the Chief Minister held an emergency meeting with top officials to assess the situation.
Sabyasachi Panda's wife Subhasree also appealed to the ultras not to harm the hostage. "I appeal to the Maoists not to harm the hostage," she told reporters while being produced at a court in Rayagada district.
"Please do not harm the MLA. He hails from a tribal family and works for the welfare of tribals," Subhasree said, adding like Maoists, Hikaka was also working for tribals.
The hostage crisis also figured in the Assembly with Congress chief whip Prasad Harichandan voicing concern over fate of the BJD MLA and steps being taken for his release.
Hikaka was abducted by Maoists in Koraput district on March 24, while Italians Paolo Bosusco (54) and Claudio Colangelo (61) were taken hostage on March 14 during trekking in tribal-dominated Kandhamal district.
The Maoists had on March 25 released Colangelo as a "goodwill gesture".