The two abducted Italians are safe and unharmed, the Odisha government claimed on Tuesday, a day after the Maoists named three negotiators to hold talks with the authorities on the six-day-long hostage crisis.
"We have information that the two Italians abducted by the Maoists are safe and unharmed," Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters after the hostage crisis was reviewedat a high-level meeting in Bhubaneshwar.
The names of Maoist-nominated negotiators are available with the government and that the matter is being examined threadbare before proceeding further, he said.
The Maoists had on Monday night nominated Narayan Sanyal, politburo member of CPI (Maoist) currently lodged in Giridih jail, and civil rights activists Dandapani Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo to hold talks.
However, Kanungo was reluctant to join the negotiation process.
Voicing doubts over the sincerity of the government towards meeting the 13 demands of the ultras, Kanungo said, "Experience shows that the state government has failed to keep its word in the past. It will be pointless to be part of talks if the government backtracks later."
Kanungo said he was reluctant to act as an interlocutor because the mediators who negotiated during abduction of the then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna in February last year had accused the government of failing to implement the demands it had accepted.
Moreover, no one had consulted me before nominating me as a negotiator, he said.
While naming the negotiators, the Maoists announced a ceasefire and extended its deadline by a day for acceptance of its 13 demands including withdrawal of cases against the ultras and release of some rebels.
The move came in response to the Odisha government's offer for talks to end the crisis.
The names of the negotiators chosen by Maoists had been conveyed through the media and now the state government's response was awaited, said Mohanty, convenor of Jana Adhikar Manch, who was among the three mediators engaged to resolve last year's Malkangiri abduction crisis.
While a senior official hoped a clear picture would emerge soon, the development was seen as a positive sign towards resolution of the crisis.
Puri-based tour operator Paolo Bosusco and Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo were abducted while trekking in Kandhamal on March 14.
The Italian hostage issue also figured in the state assembly with opposition Congress moving an adjournment notice to discuss the abduction episode.
The speaker, however, rejected the plea, saying the sensitive issue should not be discussed in the House at length in view of the safety and security of the hostages.
Selection of mediators by the kidnappers came shortly after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the left-wing extremists to nominate their representatives without any further delay and announced a halt to the coercive action by security personnel if the Maoists stop violence.
Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi spoke on Monday to his Indian counterpart S M Krishna who assured him that the Odisha government was taking all steps to secure the duo's early release.
The Italians were taken hostage on March 14 but the Maoists had reported it late on March 17 through the media.
The two Italians had driven down from Puri and entered a forested area in spite of being warned by the Daringibadi police about the presence of Maoists. A driver and cook who were accompanying them and their vehicle were released by the Maoists subsequently.
A report from Puri said that the driver, Kartik Parida, and cook, Santosh, were interrogated by the police.
The Maoists demanded a halt to the "green hunt" operation, lifting of ban on CPI (Maoist) and its sister outfits, action against erring police personnel involved in 'fake encounters', release of Subhasree Das (wife of Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda), Gananath Patra and other tribals arrested on the charge of being part of Maoist groups.