Italian tourist guide Paulo Bosusco, who was abducted by Maoist rebels more than a month ago, greets the media outside the state guest house in Bhubaneswar.
Ending the nearly month-long hostage crisis, Italian Paolo Bosusco was today released unharmed by a Maoist group under a deal with the Odisha government, though so far only one prisoner has been given bail by the courts.
The fate of ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka, however, was still unknown with another Maoist group, which kidnapped him on March 24 from Koraput district refusing to let him go unless 30 rebels, including one accused of killing 55 policemen, were set free.
Twenty-nine days after being kidnapped from the forests of Daringbadi area in tribal dominated Kandhamal, 54-year-old Bosusco was handed over by the Maoists to their mediator Dandapani Mohanty in the presence of some journalists near Raikia in the same district.
Mohanty said he was called by Sabyasachi Panda, leader of the Maoists' Odisha State Organising Committee yesterday and went to Kandhamal for handover of the Puri-based tourist guide.
"I met Panda, who handed over the Italian to me this morning near Raikia. Bosusco was then brought here and handed over to the Odisha government," he said.
The Italian was examined by doctors after being brought to the State Guest House here.
A relieved Bosusco told newsmen, "I must thank the Odia people for all their love and friendship that they have given me for the last 22 years. I have special love for Odisha."
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna thanked Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for his personal intervention in getting the Italian hostages released. Claudio Colangelo, who was kidnapped along with Bosusco was earlier released on March 25.
"It is a very good development for enhancing the image of India as a safe and peaceful country," Krishna said in Delhi.
The chief minister said "We are relieved and happy."
He also urged the the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) holding 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA, to release him unharmed and in good health.
Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte met Bosusco soon after he was brought here.
"I am happy for the release of Bosusco. I will like to express my gratitude to Indian authorities and particularly to Odisha Chief Minister for all the assistance and cooperation given for the safe release of Bosusco."
Saying that he was treated well in captivity, Bosusco said "I am very sorry that time has come to leave India. My work is finished.
"I must thank the people of Odisha for all the love and friendship they have given me in the last 22 years," he said in English and in Odia, in which he is fluent.
"I don't know if I will return, but their love will always remain in my heart," he said.
Asked if he along with compatriot Claudio Colangelo had taken objectionable photographs as alleged before they were kidnapped from Kandhamal district on March 14, he replied "No, it is not true."
Stating that his health was fine, he said "It was a unique experience."
He also said, "I don't know what is right and what is wrong. I am not a political person. But I can just say that everybody should leave violence. I hope my sacrifice will not go in vain."
Earlier, he told an Italian tv news channel, "I'm fine, I'm finally free.
"Don't worry, you know I'm strong," he said in a message to his relatives.
Asked by his interviewer why he was so thin, he said: "This is because of my 28 days of 'paid holiday'. Unfortunately the food was what it was.
"The Maoists tried to give me what they could but unfortunately given the conditions in the jungle I could not eat very much. I also had malaria twice."
Bosusco also called his father, Azelio, in Italy.
Bosusco's release came two days after Sabyasachi Panda's wife Subhashree Panda alias Mili Panda was released from jail after being acquitted by a Gunupur court in an encounter case of 2004.
The state government had agreed to release five prisoners, including Subhashree, for the release of Bosusco.
However, Dandapani Mohanty, who along with B D Sharma held talks on behalf of the Maoists with state government officials, said that Panda was not fully satisfied and wanted the government to withdraw cases against prisoners instead of bail being sought.
"However, after a long discussion, I persuaded the Maoists to release Bosusco. I told them that the Italian is our guest and he should not be held hostage for long," Mohanty said.
The Italian's release came five days after the state government representatives, led by Home Secretary U N Behera and the two Maoist-named mediators, signed a joint statement on April seven on fulfilment of the 13-point charter of demands placed by the Maoists.
Even after signing of the joint statement, Bosusco's release was delayed apparently due to inability of the Maoist mediators to send the document to Panda.
Later, the home secretary said that local officials in Kandhamal district had tried to prevent Bosusco from visiting certain areas keeping his safety in view.
"I don't think he had committed any offence," he said in reply to a question.
If it was found that he had committed any offence, he said, action would be taken.
Though the Italian hostage drama came to an end, the Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee had in a letter last night warned that they would be compelled to decide the fate of Hikaka in a 'praja' court (people's court) if the government delayed in meeting their demands.
The state government, however, has made it clear that a legal process has to be followed for the release of the 23 prisoners and their bail petitions must be moved quickly.
Meanwhile, Hikaka's wife Kaushalya once again appealed to the Maoist to release her husband immediately without causing any harm as "he is innocent."