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Muslim Separatists Say Hostages Not Hurt

American and British diplomats sought the help of pro-separatist groups Friday to free two Americans and two Britons taken hostage by Muslim militants in the mountains of northern India.

The rebels have demanded the release of 21 jailed guerrillas. They sent a message saying that the hostages, including a Spokane man, have not been harmed but did not discuss their possible release, government officials said.

The Americans have been identified as Donald Hutchings, a clinical neuropsychologist from Spokane, and John Childs of Simsbury, Conn. British officials identified the other hostages as Paul Wells of London, and Keith Mangan of Middlesbrough.

The hostages were sitting around a campfire when they were abducted by militants of Al-Faran, a little-known group fighting for the independence of Kashmir.

Four other foreigners, including Hutchings’ wife, Jane Schelly, a physical education teacher for Arlington Elementary School in Spokane, were briefly seized, as were the group’s two Kashmiri guides. They were freed Wednesday with a note demanding the release of the imprisoned rebels.

Hutchings and Schelly are both members of the Spokane Mountaineers Club. On Friday, the 735-member group began a telephone campaign on behalf of the hostages, calling members of Congress, the U.S. State Department and the Indian embassy.

Muslim separatists have been battling since 1989 for independence in Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslimmajority state in predominantly Hindu India. More than 11,600 people have died.

On Friday, American and British embassy officials appealed for help in a meeting with Umar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of 32 political parties and pro-separatist groups.

“I have told the gentlemen that I will do my best to get the innocent tourists freed,” said Farooq after his meeting with Timothy Buch, second secretary in the U.S. Embassy and Philip Barton, first secretary in the British Embassy.

Tags: kidnap