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India's Maoist Guerrillas Release Italian Tour Operator

Italian tour operator Bosusco Paolo, who has been held hostage by India's Left-wing Maoist rebels for nearly a month, was released on Thursday.

State Secretary of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) Sabyasachi Panda handed over Paolo to Dandapani Mohanty, who mediated talks with the government for the Italian hostage's release.

Paolo, who runs an adventure tourism agency in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, was set free before dawn in a forest area in the remote district of Kandhamal, reports said.

Mohanty told media that Paolo would be handed over to the State government officials in the state capital Bhubaneswar later in the day.

Paolo reportedly said he felt tired after 29 days of captivity.

Fifty-four-year-old Paolo had been trekking in the tribal area of Daringbadi in Kandhamal district on March 14 along with his Italian compatriot Claudio Colangelo when they were abducted by Maoist rebels. Colangelo, 61, was released 11 days later.

The exact terms of the release are not known but the Orissa government last week had agreed to release 27 prisoners, which included eight of Maoist cadres, in exchange for Paolo and State ruling party legislator Jhina Hikaka. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Hikaka was seized on March 23 by another group of Maoists, and remains in custody.

The Maoists, spreading terror with massacres of security forces and civilians in central-eastern India, have been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's biggest internal security threat.

Also known as Naxalites, the Maoists claim they are fighting for the cause of the rural poor who have long been neglected by successive governments. India's Interior Ministry has identified 34 districts as their strongholds.

Hundreds of people, including rebels, troops and civilians, have been killed in recent years in Maoist insurgency-related incidents in India.

by RTT Staff Writer

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