- The rebels have been holding the two Italians hostage since Wednesday
- They appear to be the first Westerners kidnapped by the Maoists
- The Indian government says it is willing to negotiate for their release
- The Maoists have been fighting against the Indian authorities since the 1960s
Two Italians have been kidnapped by Maoist insurgents in eastern India, the local authorities said Monday, in what is believed to be the first abduction of Westerners in the region.
Italian nationals Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo have been held hostage by left-wing rebels in the eastern state of Orissa since Wednesday, said Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, the top administrator of the state's Kandhamal district.
"As of now, the government has expressed its willingness to negotiate" to secure the Italians' release, Patil said, noting that the kidnappings came to light Sunday.
Anti-Maoist operations, part of a decades-long conflict, have been suspended in the troubled Kandhamal area, and the authorities are in the process of appointing a mediator for talks, he said.
It was not immediately clear what the kidnappers were demanding in return for the release of the Italian tourists.
Patil said unconfirmed reports from some local journalists had suggested that the fighters wanted government troops to pull out from the region and for charges against their fellow rebels to be withdrawn.
"Demands will be clear and confirmed once talks begin," he said.
Meanwhile, the Indian external affairs ministry has briefed the Italian government about the matter, ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in a post on Twitter.
The Maoist rebels have been battling the Indian government in several eastern states in an insurgency that has resulted in thousands of casualties since the late 1960s. They say they are fighting for the poor and the dispossessed.
The authorities have said they suspect the Maoists enjoy support not only in the poorest areas and in tribal communities, but also among youth and intellectuals.
In addition to targeting police, alleged police informers and people the Maoists call "class enemies," the insurgents also are believed to have carried out attacks on infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways, and power and telecommunication networks.