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Hostages Given 2-Day Reprieve

Hours before a Saturday evening deadline was to expire, rebels threatening to kill five Western tourists gave Indian officials another two days to meet their demand to free jailed militants.

Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings, 42, is among the hostages.

In a statement distributed to journalists, the shadowy Al-Faran group said it was extending the deadline because of appeals from Amnesty International and others.

Earlier Saturday, the hostages’ loved ones wept and pleaded for Al-Faran to spare five “innocent tourists” ensnared in the battle over independence for northern India’s Jammu-Kashmir state.

Al-Faran had threatened as recently as Friday to kill the hostages Saturday night unless the government frees 21 jailed rebels.

Despite attempts on both sides, the government and Western diplomats could establish no direct contact with the previously unknown Al-Faran, which even many militant groups in Jammu-Kashmir state say they do not know.

“In the name of God, please release all five hostages immediately and return them to us,” said a statement read by Jane Schelly, 40, Hutchings’ wife.

She spoke on behalf of wives, girlfriends and relatives of the five captives.

Schelly was herself held briefly by the militants after the July 4 abduction, but then released. Hutchings and Schelly are avid mountain climbers. They were on a five-week trip to India before they were taken captive.

Hutchings, a longtime Spokane resident whose father lives in Coeur d’Alene, taught classes for the Spokane Mountaineers Club.

Kashmiri militants tried to contact negotiators Friday, indicating they might be ready to modify their demand.

But faulty telephone lines prevented the kidnappers from reaching the diplomats on a designated phone, according to a spokesman for the militants and well-informed sources.

The militant spokesman said the captives are in good health but urged their loved ones to win their release by persuading India to free the jailed rebels.

Earlier this week, the kidnappers released a photo showing the hostages with their hands bound by a rope.

The other hostages are Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England; Paul Wells, 23, of London; Dirk Hasert, 26, of Erfurt, Germany; and Hans Christian Ostro, 27, of Oslo, Norway.

John Childs, 41, of Simsbury, Conn., who was kidnapped July 4 with Hutchings and the two Britons, escaped from the captives July 8 and returned to New Delhi. Soldiers have been searching for the other captives in the pine forests of the Himalayas.

Muslim rebels have been fighting since 1989 for the independence of Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in mostly Hindu India. More than 11,600 people have been killed.

Militant groups have kidnapped other Westerners to dramatize their demands, but all previous captives have been freed unharmed.

, DataTimes


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