Kashmiris threaten to kill British hostages

KASHMIRI guerrillas holding two Britons hostage in the Himalayan mountains yesterday warned that the pair might be killed if Indian police try to rescue them.

But the press in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, reported that a guerrilla chief, Amir Farooq Kashmiri, had vowed to release the two Britons - Kim Housego, 16, and David Mackie, 36, from London - in a few days. It is not clear if the rebel leader is in contact with the kidnappers, who are hiding in the mountains about 55 miles east of Srinagar, capital of the Indian part of Kashmir.

The two Britons were in a party of foreigners climbing to a glacier when they were ambushed. A Muslim rebel group known as Harakat-a-Ansar yesterday claimed responsibility. One of a dozen groups fighting Indian security forces in the three-year-old Kashmir uprising, which has left thousands dead, the rebels claimed the two hostages would be swapped for three guerrilla commanders captured by the Indians.

In a communique, the guerrillas said: 'We've kidnapped them only to draw the attention of the international community towards the massive human rights violations in Kashmir.'

David Housego, Kim's father, who was on the trek with his wife, Jenny, and was forced to watch as their son was abducted, said: 'As far as I understand Islam, kidnapping of an innocent boy is not justified.' Mr Housego, a former Financial Times correspondent in Delhi, said the kidnappers were not Kashmiris but armed Muslim 'mercenaries' who had crossed over from Pakistan. The Housegos and Cathy Mackie have remained in Srinagar, hoping the two captives will be freed soon.

It is the third time since 1991 that foreigners have been involved in Kashmir's revolt. The Housegos had been assured by Indian officials that the Kashmir mountains were safe for hiking.

Indian police yesterday searched the valleys of the Pahalgam region, where the kidnap happened. But in the communique, militants warned police against trying to free the hostages. An attempt by security forces last January to rescue an Indian army major held by the same rebels ended in the hostage's death.

Several Kashmiri rebel groups condemned the kidnapping, as did Pakistan, which supports the Muslim insurgents. Amanullah Khan, leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, said: 'This can only hurt our cause.' In Delhi, schoolfriends of the British boy described Kim as athletic, gregarious and strong-willed. 'Kim can talk his way out of most trouble,' said a classmate.

Kim and Mr Mackie were separated from their families on Monday night after four guerrillas stole their money and warm clothes and marched them to Ardoo village, where they were held at gunpoint. 'They demanded to know our Delhi address. We thought it was rather odd at the time,' Mrs Housego said. But that night the kidnappers apparently rang their gang in Delhi, who robbed the Housego's home of cash and jewellery.

The Indian government on several occasions has given in to Muslim militants' demands and has released guerrilla leaders in exchange for hostages, usually relatives of prominent politicians.

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