Maoist rebels have abducted two Italian men in a poor eastern Indian state and demanded that the state government stop all anti-Maoist operations in return for their release, police and the rebels said Sunday.
The two men were seized late Saturday while they were on a trek in the popular tourist resort of Daringibadi in Kandamal, Orissa state official U.N. Behera said.
Police identified the men as Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, but did not give any other details.
Bosusco has been living for 12 years in Puri, a coastal town, where he runs an adventure tourism agency.
The Italians were accompanied by a cook and a driver. The two Indians and the vehicle they were traveling in were later released by the rebels.
Local television channels received an audio tape Sunday in which the leader of the Maoists in Orissa, Sabyasachi Panda, demanded that the state government stop all armed operations against the rebels.
Panda also demanded that the government release Maoist fighters from prison and disband all police and paramilitary camps.
Television channel NDTV said the men were abducted when they were taking photographs of tribal women bathing in a river. There was no way to independently confirm that account.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the state's top elected official, appealed Sunday to the Maoists to release the men, the first foreigners to be abducted by the rebels.
"The government is ready for any kind of negotiations under the law, but they should first release the two men," Patnaik told journalists.
He called the abduction a "heinous crime."
An Italian diplomat reached Orissa on Sunday and met with state officials and police.
"We are concerned about the abduction but hopeful of their early release," said Joel Melchiori, Italy's consul general in Kolkata.
The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting in several Indian states for more than four decades demanding land and jobs for farmers and the poor.
They are active in Orissa, one of India's poorest states. They have previously abducted local officials, releasing them only after tough negotiations with the government.
About 2,000 people _ including police, militants and civilians _ have been killed in the conflict between police and rebels across India in recent years.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the insurgency India's biggest internal security threat.