Indian authorities have agreed to release 27 prisoners in exchange for an Italian tour guide and a local lawmaker held hostage by armed Maoist rebels in the eastern state of Orissa.
The state's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, announced the exchange late on Wednesday and called for the two hostages to be released "immediately, unharmed and in good health."
Paolo Bosusco, who runs a tour company in Orissa, was captured by the rebels on March 14 along with another Italian man, Claudio Colangelo, who was released 11 days later.
Their kidnapping was the first time the rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of India's tribal people and landless farmers, have targeted foreigners.
Italian diplomats have been in Orissa during negotiations to free the pair, who were picked up by the Maoists while on an adventure holiday trekking in the remote district of Kandhamal.
Patnaik said in his statement that the names of the 27 prisoners, including "eight left-wing extremists", would be issued on Thursday.
Orissa state assembly member Jhina Hikaka, who was picked up by the Maoists in a separate incident on March 24, is also due to be released in the exchange.
The Maoist rebels, who have in the past killed some kidnapped local officials and villagers, have been fighting a low-intensity war against state and national authorities for decades.
They issued a series of demands over the latest hostage-taking, including the release of prisoners, a ban on tourists visiting tribal areas and the end of the government's anti-rebel operations.
In February 2011, the Orissa state government agreed to drop charges against five suspected Maoists in exchange for two kidnapped officials, leading to criticism that the deal would encourage more abductions.
The guerrillas, described by the government as the country's most serious internal security threat, often raise funds through extortion and protection rackets.
The insurgency 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.
In their latest major attack, last week they killed 11 policemen in a landmine blast in Maharashtra state.
The Italians' abduction came amid strained ties between Delhi and Rome over last month's arrest of two Italian soldiers on charges of shooting two Indian fishermen from their cargo ship after mistaking them for pirates.© ANP/AFP