Britons held in Kashmir 'in good health'

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The Independent Online
KIDNAPPERS holding two British hikers - a schoolboy and a London businessman - hostage in the Himalayas yesterday allowed an Indian doctor to examine the captives. The doctor reported later to police that both Kim Housego, 16, and David Mackie, 36, were in good health, although Mr Mackie's leg was injured.

The two were abducted near a glacier last Monday by Harakat-a- Ansar, a Muslim guerrilla outfit fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

Police also intercepted a radio message from the guerrilla chief, broadcast from a base in Pakistan, ordering the armed kidnappers to set free the British captives. Gunmen are believed to have moved the two prisoners some 30km from Pahalgam, where they were seized.

A senior Indian official, Hindel Tayubji, said: 'We have a rough idea where they're being held but we don't want to mount a rescue operation. That might panic the abductors.' The kidnapped boy's parents, David and Jennie Housego, with Mr Mackie's wife, Cathy, were anxiously waiting in Srinagar, capital of Kashmir.

A communique issued yesterday by Harakat-a-Ansar claimed that the two Britons were 'being treated very well - like honoured guests'. It also claimed the pair would be freed once the rebels moved camp away from a sweep by the Indian army in the mountainous region.

Harakat-a-Ansar, a fundamentalist group, has many Afghan and Pathan tribesmen among its insurgents who view the three-year Kashmiri Muslim uprising as a 'holy war' against the Indian security forces. The rebels claimed they kidnapped the two Britons to frighten away tourists and to draw attention to human rights abuses by Indian troops.

Various Kashmiri insurgent groups are fighting an estimated 200,000 Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir. Some guerrillas want a separate homeland. Others want to unite with Kashmir's Muslim neighbour, Pakistan.

Hizbul-Mujahideen, the largest pro-Pakistan group, has condemned the kidnapping. In Srinagar, sources said that guerrillas of Hizbul-Mujahideen had joined the abductors and were trying to persuade them to free the hostages.