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Pakistan releases 20 Indian nationals

May 18, 2003 19:43 IST
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Pakistan on Sunday released 20 Indian nationals, including six Sikhs, languishing in its jails for the past two years.

Relatives wept as they welcomed their beloved ones who crossed over into India on foot through the Wagah joint check post at around 1200 hours IST.

The 20 included 14 crewmembers of Indian cargo vessel Raj Lakshmi, which sank off the coast of Karachi.

The release was due to take place on Saturday, but was delayed owing to logistical reasons. The families of the 20 Indians were camping on the Wagah border since Saturday to receive them.

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali had announced their release earlier as part of peace moves.

All the Indians released were issued temporary passports by the Indian high commission in Islamabad.

Surinder Singh, one of those released, said he had met hundreds of Indian prisoners in the two years he was incarcerated in Pakistan.

"Many of them had gone insane and some were in the jails for the last 20 years," he said. "If anyone dared to even open their mouths, it meant inviting the wrath of Pakistani jail officials."

The Sikh youth said he had gone to Lebanon in 1997 and after the expiry of his work permit there, he went to Iran where he was arrested and pushed towards the Pakistan border in 2001.

There the Pakistani authorities arrested him.

"I was without a passport as it had been destroyed by the Iranians. Initially, the Pakistani authorities kept me in a dark solitary cell for eight days and provided one meal a day. Dozens of unknown Pakistan officials visited me and enquired about army deployment in India and several other things concerning Indian security. My answer was always in the negative, as I was not aware of anything," Surinder said.

He also alleged that Pakistan officials tried to convince him to work for Pakistan intelligence once he reached India. The 14 crewmen of the Raj Lakshmi, all Gujaratis, alleged that they had been subject to 'third-degree torture' in Pakistan.

"On January 2001, we were coming from Dubai in our cargo ship to India, but during the journey it caught fire killing one crew member. The rest of us abandoned ship and set sail in small boats and entered the Pakistan waters near Gujarat by mistake. We were subjected to third degree torture for 14 days until Pakistani agencies were satisfied that we were not on a spying mission," they said.

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Source: source