Two Italian holiday makers were held as hostages
THE KIDNAPPING of two Italians by Maoists in India marks a change in tactics by the guerrillas whose insurgency had lost intensity following an onslaught from government forces, experts say.
Paolo Bosusco, a 54-year-old tourist guide, and Claudio Colangelo, a 61-year-old holidaymaker from Rome, were abducted on Wednesday (March 14) in Orissa, in the first case of foreigners being kidnapped by the rebels.
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.
The targeting of foreigners marks a new development in the low-intensity but brutal conflict that began in 1967 and is thought to have cost tens of thousands of lives.
“In recent months, the Maoists were on a tactical retreat but now by kidnapping two Italians they have yet again swung into action,” said PV Ramana, an expert at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
Indian security forces, which began a huge operation in November 2009 aimed at defeating the revolutionaries, have had some successes, including the recent killings of regional Maoist leaders such as Koteswar Rao, better known as Kishenji.
The rebels have also been unable to repeat any of the large attacks of recent years, such as the April 2010 assault that left 76 policemen dead in the central state of Chhattisgarh.
Leading policemen in some of the worst-affected states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa told reporters this was the first case of a foreigner being kidnapped, but they were unsure whether it would spark copycat moves.
“This is a new phenomena and a change in tactics,” said head of Chhattisgarh anti-Maoist operations, Ramniwas, who uses one name.
“Looking into the current publicity in the international media, the Indian Maoists could target more foreigners in the future to highlight their cause in an international forum,” he told reporters from Raipur.
Their cause is against the Indian government and it draws support from the most impoverished of the country’s citizens - low-caste villagers angry at corruption or police brutality, or nomadic tribal people forced from their land.
Critics believe the security offensive in some of the most isolated but resource-rich areas of the country is doomed because the real solution is better governance and development.
And Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted last September that state governments battling to win over over villagers were struggling because of a “trust deficit”.
“If villagers think that (Maoists) are their friends and the established government is their adversary, you cannot win the battle,” Chidambaram told a meeting of senior civil servants.
So far, the captors of Bosusco and Colangelo have issued a list of 13 demands which includes a ban on tourists visiting tribal areas, the end of the government’s anti-rebel operations and the release of jailed Maoist leaders.
The ban on tourists highlights the Maoists’ adopted role as protectors of tribal people, who despite attempts at positive discrimination remain on the margins of Indian society.
The two Italians are said to be in good health and are “getting good food”, according to a statement from a local Maoist leader, but past kidnappings have ended badly for the victims.
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