Maoists free Italian tour guide

NEW DELHI Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:26pm IST

Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik gives the finishing touches to a sand art sculpture created by him appealing for the release of two Italian tourists, on a beach in Puri, Orissa, March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik gives the finishing touches to a sand art sculpture created by him appealing for the release of two Italian tourists, on a beach in Puri, Orissa, March 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Maoist rebels freed Italian tour guide Paolo Bosusco on Thursday, almost a month after capturing him in a remote part of Orissa in what was believed to be the first kidnapping of a foreigner by the leftist fighters.

Local television footage showed Bosusco with a mediator who had travelled to a remote camp late on Wednesday and the Italian foreign ministry said Indian authorities had informed the ambassador of his release.

In response to rebel demands, the authorities have freed the local Maoist leader's wife from prison and promised to facilitate the release of several imprisoned guerrillas.

Bosusco was seized in Orissa, along with another Italian, Claudio Colangelo, on March 14 during a tourist visit to indigenous tribes in the region. Colangelo was handed to a group of reporters on March 25.

The fighters said they took the Italians because they were taking photographs of tribeswomen bathing in a river, an allegation Colangelo denied after his release.

Also known as Naxals, the rebels have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India, including many resource-rich regions, where tensions run high between poor farmers and industrial developers.

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.

On March 24, another group of Maoists kidnapped Jhina Hikaka, a state legislator, adding to the tension.

The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of millions of landless people.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby in ROME; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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