Ambush 'risked lives of Britons': Army breaks promise to relatives

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The Independent Online
THE INDIAN army broke its promise to relatives of two kidnapped Britons in Kashmir that it would halt military operations against insurgents to hasten the release of the hostages.

The army and police had given assurances that the pursuit of Kashmiri Muslim guerrillas would be suspended to open a 'safe passage' in the mountain range where Kim Housego, 16, and David Mackie, 36, were abducted on 6 June by Islamic 'freedom fighters'.

Before dawn on Friday, Indian soldiers ambushed a camp in the mountains above Harpatnar and shot dead seven guerrillas in their sleep. The British government expressed concern yesterday that the attack might have endangered the lives of the Britons. The army strike occurred near Pahalgam Valley, where Housego and Mackie were seized. The rebels and their hostages are thought to have remained in the area, hiding in forests or among the icy crags above.

Insurgent sources yesterday implied that the army operation could have come perilously close to the missing Britons, abducted near an ice cave sacred to Hindus. The army command defended its attack, claiming it knew the guerrillas belonged to Hezbul-Mujaheddin, a different Muslim group from the one that captured Housego and Mackie.

But a rebel commander in Tral, a nearby valley, said that, since the kidnapping, the army had carried out raids in 18 villages. 'We are worried that the Indian security forces will kill the two Britishers and blame it on Kashmiri militants.'

A snapshot of the two Britons, taken three days after they were dragged away, was handed over yesterday to Kim's father, David Housego, at a secret location by four masked gunmen from Harakat-Al-Ansar, the militant group that carried out the kidnapping. It showed the two sitting in a grassy field, disguised in Kashmiri clothes, looking pale and anxious.

There have been numerous unreliable 'sightings' of the pair by villagers and police. One of the most incredible accounts came from the kidnappers. In a note, the abductors sought to reassure Kim's parents and Mackie's wife: 'Our guests are safe and sound and enjoying the natural beauty of the mountain area of which they are so fond.'

(Photograph omitted)