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Kashmir gang's hostages are 'fine'

New Delhi - An Indian official yesterday spoke by radio to one of the four Western tourists held hostage for over seven weeks by Kashmir rebels, writes Tim McGirk. This is the first real proof that they are still alive.

The Indian negotiator, Rajender Tikkoo, spoke to the American hostage, Donald Hutchings. He said he and the other hostages, including two Britons, were "safe and fine". India and Western diplomats had demanded evidence that the four hostages were still alive before considering the kidnappers' demands to exchange the Westerners for 15 jailed Kashmir militants. One police official doubted that the hostages' release would be soon. "It will take three or four days of decision-making in New Delhi and of negotiations at the very least before they are freed," he said.