The government released recent photographs Wednesday of four Western hostages held by Kashmiri separatists and a tape recording of the captives saying they are alive and well.
The captives, including Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings, all look healthy in the photographs, even though the Al-Faran separatist group had released earlier photos showing Hutchings and one other hostage wearing bloody bandages and a statement saying they had been wounded in a battle with Indian forces.
“We’re very grateful that he (Hutchings) is alive and well, and we’re thankful for that hope,” Cindy Erler, a close friend and fellow member of the Spokane Mountaineers Club, said Wednesday night.
The captives - Hutchings, two Britons and a German - said the photographs and interviews were taken Friday, five days after the decapitated body of a fifth hostage, Hans Christian Ostro, 27, of Oslo, Norway, was found in a village in Kashmir.
“My name is Donald Hutchings. This interview is taking place on Aug. 18, 1995. I am fit, well and have no problems. Jane, I love you,” Hutchings said on the tape, which Indian officials played at a news conference.
Hutchings’ wife, Jane, has been waiting in New Delhi for his release, along with relatives of the other captives.
The other hostages gave similar statements on the cassette and said they, too, were speaking on Aug. 18.
The kidnappers released a photo of the four reading an Urdu newspaper, and four other photos showing each of them holding sheets of paper with the date Aug. 18.
Last week, government officials who have been negotiating with the captors since the kidnappings began July 4, asked Al-Faran to provide proof they were alive and in good health.
The guerrillas have threatened to kill the captives unless India frees 15 of their jailed comrades, a demand India has repeatedly refused to accept.
Besides Hutchings, 42, the captives are Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England; Paul Wells, 23, of London; and Dirk Hasert, 26, of Erfurt, Germany.
Another American, John Childs, escaped four days after being captured.
Dozens of Muslim militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s secession from India since 1989, and nearly 12,000 people have been killed. Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India, a Hindu-dominated country. Before the kidnappings, Indian officials had not heard of Al-Faran.