After day-long talks with Odisha government representatives for release of the second Italian hostage, Maoist mediators on Monday said they expect a positive outcome on Tuesday even as abductors of a ruling Biju Janata Dal MLA demanded an immediate halt to combing operations and release of jailed ultras.
"Talks for release of second Italian progressed well. We hope the negotiation will end tomorrow," Home Secretary U N Behera told reporters at the end of today's discussion.
The two Maoist-chosen negotiators - B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty - also expected talks to conclude soon. "We hope some positive outcome tomorrow," they said adding the second Italian hostage is in good health.
While the left-wing extremists freed Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo as a "goodwill gesture" on Sunday, his compatriot Paolo Bosusco, a puri-based tour operator, is still in their captivity. The two were abducted in Kandhamal district on March 14.
The Maoist mediators on Monday said Colangelo was released by rebels on humanitarian ground and now "it is for the government to take steps on humanitarian ground and release some jailed comrades".
The Maoists belonging to Koraput-Srikakulum division warned in a statement released at Koraput that the life of tribal MLA from Laxmipur, Jhina Hikaka, taken hostage by them, would be in danger if the government attempts to secure his release through any operation by security forces.
The statement in Telugu listed demands for the release of Hikaka including stoppage of combing operations to track a prominent ultra in Narayanpatna of Koraput district and release of several rebels and tribals from jail.
Refusing to nominate any mediator for holding talks with the government on their demands for release of Hikaka, it asked Odisha government to place its stand through the media.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also said that he had received a communication from Maoists of Koraput district regarding the 37-year-old BJD legislator, who was abducted on March 24. "It is being examined," he said.
Patnaik appealed to both the Maoist groups holding hostage the MLA and Bosusco, to release them.
While the state government was yet to respond to the demands of the Maoist group which has abducted the MLA, talks were held with mediators engaged by another rebel group holding Bosusco captive.
A day after being released by Maoists, 61-year-old Colangelo on Monday left for Delhi along with Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori, on way to his country, sources said.
Sharma said talks for 54-year-old Bosusco's release were held in a cordial atmosphere and "there are certain issues which need to be finalized".
Talks for ending the Italian hostage crisis had been suspended after the abduction of the BJD MLA in Koraput on March 24 and the process was resumed on Monday.
Besides U N Behera, Odisha government was represented by Panchayati Raj secretary P K Jena and ST & SC secretary S K Sarangi at the negotiation with rebel mediators.
As MLA Hikaka was abducted by a separate rebel outfit in Koraput district, the matter relating to his release was not discussed with mediators Sharma and Mohanty.
However, Mohanty said there was information that the abducted legislator was "safe and secure".
Sharma also made it clear that rivalry between Maoist groups had not affected the negotiation for the release of the lone Italian hostage.
A letter, addressed to the chief minister and bearing name of Hikaka, was released to a section of the media.
It demanded immediate halt to combing operations by security forces, release of political prisoners including ultras and activists of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha.
The state assembly was paralysed amid frequent adjournments as Opposition Congress members stormed the well demanding the chief minister's resignation.
The Congress alleged that ruling BJD had entered into a "secret agreement" with a Maoist-backed outfit for zilla parishad chairman's election in Koraput.
Refuting the charge, government chief whip R N Pani said Congress has come out with an 'absurd' theory.
Maoist interlocutor Dandapani also termed the Congress allegation as misleading and baseless. As Bosusco was still being held captive, ultras made it clear that his release would depend on the Odisha government's seriousness regarding their demands.
The two foreigners had been abducted by the Maoists while trekking in the dense forest and hilly areas of Kandhamal district on March 14. But the matter came to light through media only on March 17.
Regarding the Laxmipur MLA, the sources said the state government was also exploring back channel negotiation with the Maoists as well as leaders of Naxal-backed CMAS in order to secure his release.
Top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda told a TV channel that a different group was behind the kidnapping of Hikaka and the gunning down of a police sub-inspector in Malkangiri.
He also admitted that factional rivalry existed in the Maoist organisation and that there is nothing to hide.
The abduction of the BJD MLA on March 24 was preceded by the gunning down of a police sub-inspector in Malkangiri on
March 22 and the killing of two policemen in a landmine blast in Koraput on March 18.
Srikakulam-Koraput division of CPI (Maoist), now headed by Dayanidhi, is apparently behind the abduction of the ruling BJD MLA as the statement circulated in Koraput bore the name of Dayanidhi, security agencies said.
Sources said a group of local journalists were in touch with the abductors for the safe release of Hikaka.