Gunpoint ordeal of Kashmir trekker

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The Independent Online
Another former hostage of the Kashmiri separatists was enjoying freedom yesterday after being captured and questioned for several hours at gun- point.

Charles Greig, a 40-year old London art dealer, said he was captured by eight armed separatists on 4 July near the village of Aroo, in southern Kashmir. He was held a few hours after four other tourists were kidnapped by armed members of the Al Faran separatist group.

Mr Greig was trekking in the mountains and had stopped for the night when the militants, bearing automatic weapons, burst into his tent at 11pm. "They took away my camera, watch, clothes and money and ate up all the food supplies," he said. The militants then questioned him over an hour.

"They studied my passport carefully and repeatedly wanted to know whether I worked for the Indian Government," he said. The militants then disappeared leaving only one as a guard. At dawn, the remaining guard slipped away.

During his escape, Mr Greig ran into at least half a dozen groups of foreign trekkers. "I warned them about what had happened but they did not take the slightest bit of notice."

In Delhi, he reported the incident to the British High Commission. He said they were neither helpful nor sympathetic. "They felt that if I spoke about it to the press it might compromise the position of the hostages."

Before embarking on his trek, Mr Greig had checked with the mountaineering department of the government tourist office in Srinagar whether it was safe to do so. "The tourist office assured me that it was absolutely fine. I was quite surprised to see how many foreign tourists there were in Kashmir."

Mr Greig said he is certain that the militants were not of Kashmiri origin. "About five of them spoke excellent Urdu without a trace of a Kashmiri accent." His testimony confirms the growing impression the most dangerous militant groups in Kashmir today are either Afghan guerrillas or Islamist radicals from Pakistan.

Al Faran, the group holding the hostages in Kashmir, is believed to be a front for the Harkat ul Ansar group, which is led by Mujahideen from the Afghan war. The Harkat ul Ansar was responsible for the kidnapping of Kim Housego and David Mackie in the same region last summer.