BHUBANESWAR, INDIA - Maoist rebels in eastern India on Thursday released a state lawmaker who had been held hostage for more than a month in the latest of a series of kidnappings by the guerrillas.
Jhina Hikaka, 37, a member of the Orissa state assembly, was allowed to walk out of the remote jungle hideout where he had been held captive during weeks of negotiations.
"I am a free man now. They did not torture me. I was treated well," a tired-looking Hikaka told waiting reporters before he was driven away with his wife.
The rebels, who claim to be fighting for the rights of poor tribals and farmers, said in an audio message that Hikaka had agreed to resign from his post in return for being freed, but no such deal has been confirmed.
The Maoists have in the past kidnapped officials and police officers to raise ransom payments and negotiate other demands. Most hostages have been released unharmed, but some have been killed.
In the first case of foreigners being targeted by the rebels, two Italian men were abducted in Orissa last month. They were both later released unharmed.
A civil servant in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh remains held hostage after being picked up on Saturday in an attack in which his two bodyguards were killed.
The government describes the Maoist movement, which often targets police and soldiers with deadly roadside mine ambushes, as India's biggest internal security threat.
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.