| Rebels have fought a guerrilla campaign against the government but rarely target foreigners [EPA]
Maoist guerrillas have abducted two Italian tourists from a remote district of India's Orissa state, in what is believed to be the first abduction of foreigners by the rebels.
"Maoists have abducted two Italian nationals from Daringbadi area of Kandhamal district," Radha Krishna Sharma, regional police deputy inspector general, told AFP news agency on Sunday.
Sharma said the men had asked police to be allowed to travel around Kandhamal, but authorities had denied them permission, citing risks of Maoist violence.
"After that the two men and their Indian assistants were found roaming in these areas and on Wednesday, while they were taking a bath near a coffee plantation, Maoists abducted them," Sharma said.
UN Behera, Orissa's home secretary, however said the kidnapping took place on Saturday.
Local television reports said the kidnappers issued 13 demands for the release of the Italians, including asking police to free an unspecified number of prisoners and end their drive to root out Maoists from the region.
Sharma confirmed the rebels had issued demands for the Italians' release but did not disclose their contents. He said they freed the two Indian hostages on Sunday morning unconditionally.
"This is the first time any foreigner has been kidnapped by Maoists," Sharma said. They have previously abducted local officials, releasing them only after tough negotiations with the government.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi agreed this was the first time the rebels had kidnapped foreigners.
"It is not clear yet if this is a rogue operation by a maverick leader or if it is a strategic move by the central Maoist authority," Sahni told AFP.
"Maoists have suffered tremendous attrition of leadership in recent years, so this presents an opportunity to get some of their leaders out of jail."
The Italian foreign ministry identified the abducted men as Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo.
Bosusco had been living in the city of Puri in Orissa for a decade and was running an adventure tourism company, police said.