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Indian Maoists kidnap lawmaker during Italian hostage talks

BHUBANESWAR (India), March 24 — Maoist rebels kidnapped an Indian politician today, police said, a move that could upset talks over the release of two Italian hostages held by left-wing fighters in the same eastern state of Orissa.

A large group of armed men stopped Orissa state lawmaker Jhina Hikaka, 37, as he was being driven through a hilly area 500km from the state capital Bhubaneswar early today.

“They took him hostage but left the driver and the bodyguard,” police officer Suryamani Pradhan told Reuters. “We are awaiting further details.”

Pradhan said the rebels left a leaflet on Hikaka’s car listing the same 13 demands set for the release of Italians Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo, taken hostage last week in what is believed to be the first time the rebels have targeted foreigners.

It was not clear if the politician was kidnapped by the same wing of the Maoists. Today’s kidnapping took place in a different region of the state.

Two rebel-appointed negotiators talked with government officials until late yesterday about the Italians, and talks were due to continue today.

Although the rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire during negotiations, the government said they shot dead a police sub-inspector in the Maoist stronghold district of Malkangiri on Thursday, the day talks started.

“The Maoists should desist from their continued violence,” state chief minister Naveen Patnaik said late yesterday.

Also known as Naxals, the rebels have fought a decades-long war against the government in a wide swathe of central India. They say they are fighting for the poor and landless, and they often back farmers in land disputes with big business.

The government calls them India’s main internal security threat, and an obstacle to higher growth and more jobs in Asia’s third-largest economy. Hundreds die annually in the conflict, although levels of violence have fallen in recent years. — Reuters


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