M A I N   N E W S

Anger of Una people spills on roads
Bid to take 37 foreigners hostage
Pratibha Chauhan and Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Shimla/Una, July 30
An attempt was made by a mob in Una to take 37 foreign tourists hostage. The mob was protesting against the failure of the government to get three Indians released, who have been held captive by militants in Iraq.

The foreigners, including 22 British, were saved following intervention by local people. They have now been housed in the Una SP’s office. Earlier, they were kept in Vishwakarma Temple, Santokhgarh. Efforts are being made to facilitate their safe passage into Punjab. Thirty police personnel, along with a DSP, are guarding them round the clock.

The mob that had blocked traffic to and from Una since last night tried to take the foreigners hostages. These foreigners were from America, Korea, Switzerland, Japan, Tibet and the Netherlands. They were returning from Dharamsala and had stopped at Santokhgarh to have lunch.

Thousands of vehicles have been stranded between Mehatpur and Una since last night. The police and the district authorities are trying to remove road block. The government has warned that action would be taken against those taking the law in their hands.

The Chief Minister, Mr Virbhadra Singh, has taken a strong exception to this kind of behaviour. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the BJP were trying to draw political mileage by exploiting the sentiments of the families of two hostages, who were undergoing tremendous emotional trauma, he said.

“Despite the External Affairs Ministry and the state government making their best efforts to ensure the safety and release of the Indian hostages, it is shameful that the VHP and the BJP are aggravating the situation by giving it a political colour,” he said. Such protests were being covered by the foreign media and trying to take foreigners hostage would only hamper Indian hostages’ safe release, he added.

He said he had spoken to the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh. The Central authorities were in constant touch with the kidnappers in Iraq, he added. “It is not possible to reveal all details at this juncture, but even the respected Muslim religious leaders are being contacted to help in getting the hostages released,” he said.

“In fact, the families of the two hostages from the state have told the State Minister for External Affairs that they were satisfied with the efforts being made by the government and they had nothing to do with those blocking traffic and causing inconvenience to the public,” he said. The Chief Minister would be visiting Una to meet the two families whose sons are being held hostage in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Himachal Pradesh police escorted all 37 foreigners, whom the mob had tried to take hostage, till Hoshiarpur in Punjab.

Meanwhile, tension mounted in Una district as local people blocked traffic and called for a complete bandh following news of Pakistani hostages being killed in Iraq and terrorists threatening to kill an Indian hostage hailing from the district.

The family of Antaryami, whom the Iraqi terrorists have threatened to execute this evening, were in a state of shock. A silence prevailed at their house in Dehlan as they remained huddled in the house. A number of villagers had gathered outside their house to lend moral support to the distressed family.

Antaryami’s wife, Kusum, was in tears, with his 11-month-old daughter, Sukhdeep, sitting in her lap. His mother, Bhago Devi, had to be rushed to the district hospital last night after she collapsed on hearing the news about her son on television.

In the morning, Antaryami’s friend called up from Kuwait and spoke to the family, saying the company for which they were working was in constant touch with the terrorist group and negotiations between them were on.

Hundreds of passengers remained stranded at bus stands and elsewhere as buses were brought to a halt. Those stranded included foreign tourists. Rumours were rife last night that foreign tourists were being held hostage by protesters, but these were later discounted by the police.

“We have been stranded since midnight,” Jessie Vaugh, a Class XI student travelling in a group from Dharamsala to Delhi on her first visit to India, said. “Local people cited some events in Iraq as the reason behind blocking roads. We were provided food in a temple by the people in a village called Santokhgarh,” she added.

“It was scary experience. There was a crowd around us and there was no knowing what might happen next,” Anna, a Polish national travelling in the same bus said. “India is a beautiful country and such event sare shameful,” she added.

“We have no clue as to when we will move. We would have been in Delhi by now,” Sean, an Irish tourist said.

The plight of passengers at bus stands is much worse. All shops, even dhabas and chemist shops, remained closed. Those with children had to face a lot of problems to arrange eatables. At some places, people organised langars for stranded bus passengers and truck drivers.

The protesters also tried to get public and government offices closed, but no untoward incident was reported from any part of the district. The police was deployed at places where traffic was held up and protesters had gathered in large numbers.

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