Relatives of foreigners kidnapped by Kashmiri separatists persuaded a jailed rebel leader Friday to appeal for their freedom.
Julie Mangan, whose husband Keith is among the missing men, and Bob Wells, father of another kidnapped Briton, Paul, spent more than 30 minutes with Masood Azhar of the Harkat-ul Ansar - a group fighting to make Kashmir part of Pakistan.
The two other hostages are Donald Hutchings, of Spokane, and Dirk Hasert, of Germany.
At the end of the meeting, Azhar issued a one-page handwritten appeal to the rebels asking them to free the four men, Mangan told reporters.
The appeal, in the local Urdu language, was to be published in local newspapers. On Sunday, Mangan said, she and other relatives plan to drop copies from a helicopter over the mountains north of Jammu, where many rebels are believed to be hiding.
A little-known separatist group in the northern Indian state claimed to have kidnapped the four in July 1995. The group, Al-Faran, demanded the release of jailed Kashmiri militants, including Azhar, in exchange for the foreigners.
The Indian government rejected Al-Faran’s demand.
Contact with Al-Faran ended in November, 1995. Since then there have been unconfirmed reports that the captors have killed their hostages.
Security officials in Jammu-Kashmir believe that Al-Faran is part of the larger Harkat-ul Ansar and the groups are controlled by rebels in neighboring Pakistan, which claims Kashmir as its own territory.
The insurgency in Jammu-Kashmir began in 1989, and fighting since then has killed nearly 14,500 people.
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