The Maoists holding ruling Biju Janata Dal Member of Legislative Assembly Jhina Hikaka hostage on Sunday extended the deadline for the fulfillment of their demands till April 18.
In a message, a leader of Maoists' Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee set a new deadline of 5 pm on April 18 for the release of 29 rebels, said Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, a Koraput-based lawyer who fights cases for Maoists.
The Maoists, who had earlier demanded the release of 30 prisoners to free the tribal MLA, have also omitted the name of Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused of killing at least 55 police personnel, from the list.
The demand for the release of Ghasi had drawn protests from different quarters including the police force, with the Odisha Police Association threatening to boycott anti-Naxal operations if hardcore Maoists like him were freed to secure the release of the 37-year-old Laxmipur legislator.
The abductors, however, stuck to their condition of a prisoner-hostage exchange. They want the abducted MLA's wife, Kaushalya, and his lawyer to accompany the 29 freed rebels to release Hikaka, Patnaik said.
The message about an extension of deadline was the first communication from the MLA's abductors in the last four days.
The Odisha government was yet to respond to the fresh message from the Maoists.
"We have come to know about it from the media. It needs to be examined," a senior official said.
Hikaka, who was abducted by Maoists on March 24 in Koraput, continues to be in their captivity. Two Italians, abducted by a separate Naxal group on March 14 in Kandhamal, have been set free.
Though Ghasi's name is out of the list now, it may still be difficult for the Odisha government to arrange the physical presence of freed prisoners at Balipeta in the Naxal hotbed of Narayanpatna in Koraput district.
The government has agreed to release 23 prisoners 15 Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha members and eight Maoists -- but the rebels are reluctant to seek bail as they want complete withdrawal of the cases against them.
State Home Secretary U N Behera said efforts were going on to convince lawyers of Maoists and CMAS members to move bail petitions and the government was hopeful that they would file bail petitions by Tuesday.
"However, the government is yet to take a decision on the demand of abductors to free more people," he said.
The fresh message from the abductors came as a sign of relief for the Odisha government, which had started exploring back-channel negotiations with the ultras to strike a swap deal.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik visited Koraput and held a meeting with local leaders on Saturday, a senior official said.
Due to the Maoist group's refusal to hold talks through mediators, it had become tough to resolve the crisis.
Some people's representatives from Koraput were asked to explore contacts with the CMAS, a front organisation of Maoists, for striking a deal with the AOBSZC, the official said.