Raids by Indian forces 'hamper Britons' release'

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The Independent Online
THE latest note from the kidnappers of two Britons in Kashmir was pushed under the garden gate of a Srinagar journalist's house by a swift-running boy. He slipped around the corner and vanished down a lane of tailor shops.

The note from Harakat-a-Ansar, a hardline Muslim secessionist group in Kashmir, brought grim news. It said that because of Indian troop movements in the high ranges, the captors of Kim Housego, 16, and David Mackie, 36, are facing 'a lot of difficulties in ensuring the safety of our guests'. It said Indian helicopter gunships had fired on the Britons and their kidnappers, but this is dismissed by the Indian authorities as nonsense.

Late yesterday, a caller from the guerrillas, told Tim's parents, David and Jenny Housego, and Mr Mackie's wife, Cathy in Srinagar, that the guerrilla chief had ordered the immediate release of the two hostages. It was not the first time the relatives had heard that promise, but hopefully this time it may be the last. Mr Housego said: 'The communique doesn't seem as discouraging as I first thought. It was clearly drafted in Srinagar and not by the group that took Kim and David.'

The release of the two Britons has been slowed and possibly hampered by raids carried out by Indian security forces on suspected hideouts used by Harakat-a-Ansar commanders in Srinagar. Harakat- a-Ansar has concentrated most of its 1,500 armed guerrillas in ambushes against Indian troops in the mountains.

Only four or five commanders remain in Srinagar, and since the two Britons were seized, the guerrillas have been forced to jump to different safe houses often just before Indian forces seal off a neighbourhood, herding men out at gunpoint before the gaze of hooded informers. 'The Indian army wants their capture to blackmail the Harakat into releasing the two Britishers,' said one Kashmiri militant. It's not easy for the Harakat to hide - they have long beards.' Finally, after four days of missed rendezvous I was taken in an auto-rickshaw to a narrow cul- de-sac, and an armed Kashmiri guerrilla escorted me upstairs to a large room where more militants sat putting batteries in a field radio. One young guerrilla insisted on showing me seven of his 18 bullet wounds.

These guerrillas, who belong to Hezbul-Mujaheddin, the most powerful Kashmiri militant outfit with close ties to Harakat-a-Ansar, said the two Britons were safe and being treated well.

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