Kashmir gang says hostages unharmed

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The Independent Online
Srinagar (Reuter) - Guerrillas holding two Britons and two other Westerners hostage in Kashmir re-established contact with Indian authorities yesterday, and officials said the captives had not been harmed.

The officials lost contact with the guerrillas after 19 September, bringing the crisis that began in early July to a stalemate and leaving the captives facing a freezing Himalayan winter.

"All of them are safe, but one British hostage and the US hostage are sick," KB Jandial, a spokesman for the government of the state of Jammu and Kashmir told reporters. "They are being treated well." He said the kidnappers spoke three times to officials by telephone and radio yesterday.

"We are treating this as a positive development," he said.

Mr Jandial did not say which of two Britons, Paul Wells or Keith Mangan, was sick. The American, Don Hutchings, and a German, Dirk Hasert, are the other two hostages being held by members of Al-Faran after being abducted while trekking in the Himalayan region.

The decapitated body of a fifth hostage, a Norwegian, Hans Christian Ostroe, was found on 13 August in a remote forest, with a message near his body that threatened to kill the other captives if Al-Faran's demands were not met.