Hostage's father tracks down gunmen

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The Independent Online
AFTER travelling for hours through the mountains from the Himalayan village where he last saw his son, David Housego yesterday made contact with four masked gunmen belonging to the Islamic extremist group that kidnapped 16- year-old Kim.

Moving back to Pahalgam, near the place where Kim and another Briton, David Mackie, were seized on 6 June, had seemed a futile exercise on the part of Mr Housego and Mr Mackie's wife, Cathy. It paid off.

'I think we're closer. I think they do want them released,' said Mr Housego, on returning to Pahalgam. A gunman had handed over a photograph of Kim and Mr Mackie, 36, taken three days after they went missing. Both hostages are wearing Kashmiri garments and are sitting in a field guarded by a masked man with a semi-automatic rifle.

Mr Housego was told by an edgy Harakat-al-Ansar guerrilla: 'We wanted to release them yesterday, but because of an Indian army crackdown we stopped the programme.'

'Immediately I felt a sense of shock,' said Mr Housego. 'He was my son, but at the same time I didn't recognise him.' Mr Housego met the gunmen through a go-between after driving through the mountains. 'Kim's much paler. But he looked as though he'd been kept indoors. He does look well, but remember, it was taken a week ago.'

When Mrs Mackie saw the photograph of her husband she crumpled and wept. Until then she had remained calm and in wry humour throughout the 12-day ordeal. 'It's like looking at him like he's dead, to be perfectly honest. I haven't seen him in so long and here he is in a photo, and it's just not real.'

Mrs Mackie recognised a second snapshot as one that she had taken shortly before her husband and she were robbed along with 13 other foreign tourists in Aroo village, high in the Himalayas. The tourists were taken at gunpoint to Pahalgam and then Mr Mackie and Kim were spirited away. On seeing the photograph, she cried: 'Oh God, he is wearing that T-shirt from the Pig and Whistle; what will they think?'

The T-shirt showed a pig slugging back pints, and Mrs Mackie was worried that, since pork and alcohol are forbidden by Islam, the T-shirt might not endear Mr Mackie to his zealot kidnappers.

The so-called 'high command' of the Kashmir guerrillas ordered Mr Housego to stop his public appeals in Pahalgam and return to Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir. Harakat-al-Ansar, whose guerrillas are mainly Islamic extremists from Afghanistan and Pakistan, are among 40 Kashmiri Muslim militant organisations leading a four- year uprising to break away from


Mr Housego and Mrs Mackie will break camp and rush back to Srinagar. 'If you confine yourself in Srinagar and relax there, we will hand them over safely,' the gunmen told Mr Housego, who retorted: 'I can't relax; my wife can't relax.'

Agitated, the gunmen told Mr Housego that India is 'trying to bring hurdles to their safe and early release'. Yesterday, Indian officials said that a deputy district leader of the group was among nine rebels killed in Sopore. They said the killings were not linked to the


Earlier, Mr Housego had been given assurances by Brigadier Arjun Ray, the commander of over 125,000 troops in Kashmir, that all military operations in the area where the two Britons had been kidnapped would be temporarily halted.

Kashmir's great divide, page 8