Talks between Maoist mediators and those of the Odisha government are expected to start soon to resolve the Italian hostage crisis, according to Dandapani Mohanty, one of the two negotiators chosen by the ultras.
Mohanty said the Maoists would not wait for another mediator for talks to start. "Talks with the Odisha government representatives will begin very soon without waiting for the third negotiator to be chosen by the abductors," Mohanty said.
B D Sharma, another rebel-nominated negotiator, is likely to arrive in Bhubaneswar shortly, he said, adding the modalities for talks would be worked out soon after his arrival.
"In the meantime, the Maoists may nominate their third negotiator if they want," Mohanty said.
Talks to end the hostage crisis have failed to take off so far in view of the inability on the part of the Maoists to fix negotiators, official sources said. They said two of the mediators, named by the rebels, had declined to be part of the process.
The three negotiators to represent the state government were Principal Secretary (Home) U N Behera, Panchayatiraj Secretary P K Jena and Secretary in ST and SC Department S K Sarangi.
The Maoists on Wednesday night extended their deadline by another day for a negotiated settlement of their 13 demands after their offer to free one of them elicited no response from the government.
Dandapani also suggested that the Centre be approached for bringing three jailed Maoist leaders, Narayan Sanyal, Amit Bagchi and Kobad Gandhi, lodged at the Giridih Jail, Vishakhapatanam Jail and Tihar Jail respectively, to the Bhubaneswar Jail to facilitate monitoring of the hostage crisis.
The Maoists had offered to release one of the two Italians if two of their demands, including release of some rebels, were met. One of the demands is immediate release of five ultras, including Subhashree Das, wife of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda and Gananatha Patra.
The Italians -- Puri-based tour operator Paolo Bosusco and tourist Claudio Colangelo -- were taken hostage while they were trekking in Kandhamal district on March 14.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said that Italian Ambassador to India Giacomo Sanfelici di Monteforte spoke to him again on Wednesday and expressed concern over the safety and health of the two hostages.
Making a fresh appeal to the Maoists to release the hostages, he said, "All of us are deeply concerned about the well-being and safety of the Italians."
The Biju Janata Dal government came under Opposition attack over the hostage crisis with the Congress accusing the chief minister of politicising the issue by making certain remarks about the Centre.
"By levelling allegations against the Centre, the chief minister sought to politicise a sensitive issue though we are all trying to cooperate with his government," said Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh.
"It was unfortunate on the part of the chief minister to make adverse remarks about the Centre," Congress chief whip in the state assembly Prasad Harichandan said.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders also sought a clarification from the chief minister about his reported remarks.
In a related development in Delhi, the Centre said necessary steps were being taken to see that the two Italians were released and that the state government had set up a Crisis Management Group to deal with the situation.
"We are in touch with state government authorities. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has spoken to the chief minister and requested him to make all efforts for the safe release of the two Italian nationals," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, rallies were taken out in different parts of Odisha by people from all walks of life demanding release of the two abducted.