Captive Pleads For Help Kashmiri Rebels Release Tapes Of Spokane Psychologist, Others
Kashmiri separatists said they could kill a Spokane psychologist and four other Western hostages “at any time” as a second deadline passed Monday.
The Al-Faran rebel group also released an audio tape in which Don Hutchings of Spokane told his wife that he was OK and asked Indian and American governments to help secure his release.
The group has said it will free its hostages only if the Indian government releases 21 jailed militants. Midnight Monday marked the second time a deadline set by the group has passed.
“The hostages may be killed at any time,” the guerrillas said. “We established contact with the (Indian) government three days ago, but the government did not show any real interest in negotiating the hostages’ release.”
Hutchings, two Britons, a German and a Norwegian are captives of the group.
In the cassette delivered to The Associated Press, Hutchings could be heard pleading for help and reassuring his wife, Jane Schelly.
“I am Don Hutchings of the United States of America. I am OK. We have walked many days and nights over the mountains, and I am tired. The mujahedeen have been OK with me,” the tape said.
“Jane, I want to let you know I am OK. I do not know today I will die or tomorrow I will die. I do not know what will happen. I appeal to the American government and the Indian government for help.”
It was not clear whether Hutchings was reading a statement prepared by the militants.
Hutchings and Schelly, a physical education teacher for Arlington Elementary School, were on a five-week vacation in India when they were among a group of tourists captured by the militants on July 4.
Schelly and other women in the group were released the next day.
In the tape recording, the other hostages could be heard making statements, but only two of the men’s comments were clear.
Paul Wells, 23, of London, said: “My name is Paul Wells. I am from the United Kingdom. I was captured 10 days ago. We are very tired.”
Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England, said: “At the moment I have a touch of food poisoning, but otherwise I am OK. … I am appealing to the Indian government to do everything possible to help with our release.”
The other hostages are Dirk Hasert, 26 of Erfurt, Germany, and Hans Christian Ostro, 27, of Oslo, Norway.
Soldiers have been searching for the captives in the pine forests of the Himalayas since July 4.
Muslim rebels in Jammu-Kashmir, the only majority Muslim state in predominantly Hindu India, have been fighting for independence for the past five years. The violence has killed more than 11,600 people.
Pakistan, which wants to annex Kashmir and has fought two wars with India over the state, reportedly funds and trains pro-Pakistani rebel groups in the state.
In Pakistan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the moderate Jamiat-e-Ulemae Islam political party, said a caller identifying himself as an Al-Faran member had asked him to mediate in the hostages’ release.
In New Delhi, Arif Khan, the spokesman for India’s Foreign Office, said: “The kidnappings in Kashmir are obviously instigated, aided and abetted from across the border.” He would not discuss details of the case.
On Sunday, the rebels established direct contact with negotiators from the Indian government and Western embassies for the first time. It was unclear whether diplomats had a number where they could reach the hostages on Monday or whether they were working through an intermediary.
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