Social activists and local residents shout slogans against the Maoists during a protest rally demanding the release of two abducted Italians and a local lawmaker in Bhubaneswar, India, Saturday, March 24, 2012.       —AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout

BHUBANESWAR: Negotiations to get freed two Italian hostages kidnapped by Indian Maoists plunged into uncertainty on Saturday after the rebels kidnapped a local lawmaker.

Two of the negotiators said in a statement the kidnapping of the state government politician overnight had made “a mockery of peaceful talks” and “the negotiations (should) be kept under suspension”.

But Orissa state Home Secretary Upendra Nath Behera, the head of the three-man government team participating in the talks, said the government was “always open to peaceful dialogue and would not mind speaking again”.

Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, one of a string of states where Maoist rebels have been waging a decades-long armed battle to overthrow the government, called on the rebels to release all three hostages.

“I once again appeal to the Maoists to shun violence and release the three hostages immediately,” Patnaik told reporters in the Orissa state capital, Bhubaneswar, on Saturday.

The kidnapping of the state lawmaker followed the seizure last week of the two Italians, Paolo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, in what is believed to be the first kidnapping of foreigners by India’s Maoists. The Italians were on an adventure holiday.

Negotiators B.D. Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, appointed by the Orissa state government at the Maoists’ request to conduct the talks for the release of the Italians, called on the rebels to free all three hostages unconditionally.

Sharma and Mohanty said the Maoists had reneged on their word that they would refrain from violence during the negotiations.

“We trusted the rebels’ promise of a ceasefire during the course of negotiations. The kidnapping of the lawmaker proves that violence has not been stopped,” they said.

“Given this backdrop we think dialogue is meaningless until they free the hostages. The talks for resolving the demands (of the Maoists) can continue later,” the negotiators added.

The Maoists’ demands include a ban on tourists visiting tribal areas, an end to the government’s anti-rebel operations and release of jailed Maoist leaders.

The negotiators held talks with the rebels for a third straight day on Saturday, but the three hours of discussions ended in deadlock, Sharma and Mohanty told reporters.

The Maoists seized the Orissa politician, Jhina Hikaka, 37, when he was being driven through a hilly area, 450km from Bhubaneswar, and stuffed his car with Maoist propaganda posters, police said.

The kidnapped politician is a backbench member of Orissa’s ruling right-wing Biju Janata Dal government.

It was not immediately clear if the abduction of the politician was by the same branch of the rebels who seized the Italians as the kidnapping occurred in another part of the state.

In 2010, the insurgents — who have a presence in over 20 of India’s 29 states — were blamed for derailing an Indian train, killing at least 80 people.

The insurgency, which began in 1967, feeds off land disputes, police brutality and corruption, and is strongest in the poorest and most deprived areas of India, many of which are rich in natural resources.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribal people and landless farmers and their ultimate goal is to capture India’s cities and overthrow parliament.

Hostage-taking is a familiar technique of the Maoists, who are based in the forests of central and eastern India, but victims in the past have been mostly policemen or government officials — some of whom have been executed.—AFP