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India, Pakistan free 583 prisoners
61 Punjabis among freed
Varinder Walia & Neeraj Bagga

Wagah, September 12
It was spectacular. The historic repatriation of 583 Indian and Pakistani prisoners — the biggest such event so far, triggered celebrations on both sides of the zero line even as relatives of Pakistani prisoners danced to the tune of drum beats across the Wagah Joint Checkpost, here today.

Emotional scenes were witnessed here even as the freed men walked into the arms of their relatives, many of whom had longed for this moment for many years.

Pakistan and India released 435 persons including 371 fishermen and 148 prisoners, respectively, in accordance with an agreement reached at Secretary-level talks last month. Media hype, given to Sarabjit’s case necessitated talks between India and Pakistan, resulting in the repatriation of prisoners. Among the prisoners released by Pakistan are 64 civilians including 61 Punjabis who had landed in Pakistan jails as they were duped by travel agents.

Mr Wasim Sajjad, Interior Affairs Minister, Pakistan, who had come to facilitate prisoners’ exchange, said that Pakistan had freed more prisoners compared to India as a goodwill gesture. However, he declined to comment when asked about the release of Sarabjit Singh on the pretext that the case was sub judice.

Amid celebrations over the release of their near and dear ones, many relatives could not hold back tears of happiness over ‘happy re-union’. These emotions were amidst happy songs played on the Pakistan side. It was long-awaited opportunity to exchange congratulations and blessings too. Some of the relatives of Indian prisoners had brought home-made lunch which they (repatriated prisoners) had been missing during imprisonment in Pakistani jails. Some prisoners has endured long years of isolation and deprivation, solitary confinement, threats, denial of medical service, and different kinds of brutality.

Mr Vijay Sharma of Kathua, who was awaiting the arrival of his brother Radhay Shayam Sharma who crossed over to Pakistan in 1998, said he did not have words to express his happiness. President of the Auto-rickshaw Union, Kathua (J&K), he said all autorickshaw owners of Kathua had come with him to receive Radhay Shayam. He said his brother was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by the Pakistani court, but his release was delayed by seven years. He claimed that entire kathua was closed today to celebrate the occasion.

Mr Sukhwinder Singh resident of Ballah village in Hoshiarpur district, said that he was immensely happy and felt lucky that he was freed within a year of his arrest. He said that he had gone to Greece in search of greener pastures.

Same was the tale of majority of Punjabi youths. Shamsher Singh, resident of Fatehgarh sahib, said that they were three brothers and had only nine acres to support the family. He therefore decided to go abroad to earn livelihood with the help of local agent. Suraj Bhan of Rajouli, Ambala, who was among the first prisoners to be released, told that he was happy to return to India. He had gone along with many others in 1997 to Turkey for a job, but got caught and spent sometime in Turkey, then in Iran and then in Pakistan.

Among the 148 Pakistani prisoners, some were either deaf or mute, official sources said adding that initially, the Pakistani government had refused to give them travel documents but later agreed after India said it would keep them in a rehabilitation centre.

The Pakistani prisoners who, were released today were brought to Amritsar’s Central Jail yesterday from various jails across the country. These included 20 from Rajasthan, 10 from Gujarat, 30 from Punjab, six from West Bengal, 31 from Jammu and Kashmir, one each from Nagaland and Maharashtra and two from Delhi.



Punjabis released by Pakistan
Our Correspondent

Wagah, September 12
The following are the names of Punjabis released by Pakistan here today. Suraj Bhan Rajauli (Ambala), Surinder Pal Kalewal (Hoshiarpur), Amarjit Singh (Kapurthala), Bhajan Singh (Hoshiarpur), Jatinder Kumar (Jalandhar), Bharat Bhushan (Ludhiana), Lakhwinder Singh (Patiala), Jarnail Singh (Hoshiarpur), Kulbeer Singh (Nawanshahr), Kuldip Singh (Jalandhar), Makhan Singh (Jalandhar), Manjit Singh (Jalandhar), Lakhwinder Singh Kala (Kapurthala), Manjinder Singh (Kapurthala), Jagtar Singh (Kapurthala), Sukhwinder Singh (Hoshiarpur), Gagan Deep (Hoshiarpur), Charanjit Singh (Hoshiarpur), Baljit Singh (Amritsar), Tarsem Singh (Kapurthala), Mahinder Singh (Nawanshahr), Hardip Singh (Ludhiana), Yashpal (Hoshiarpur), Rajbir Singh (Ropar), Madan Lal Virdi, (Jalandhar), Karnail Singh (Jalandhar), Karamjit Singh,

Gaurav Singh (Jalandhar), Jasbir Singh (Jalandhar), Nirmal Singh (Jalandhar), Gurjit Singh (Ferozepore), Hardev Singh (Jalandhar), Harpreet Singh (Amritsar), Gursahab Singh (Amritsar), Dalbir Singh (Amritsar), Daljinder Singh (Hoshiarpur), Sarabjit Singh (Kapurthala), Balbir Singh (Ropar), Surinder Singh (Kapurthala), Raj Kumar (Kapurthala), Ranjit Singh (Nawanshahr), Paramdip Singh (Nawanshahr), Paramjit Singh (Sangrur), Inderjit Singh (Amritsar), Sanjiv Toni (Hoshiarpur), Kulwinder Singh (Hoshiarpur), Kulwinder Singh (Fatehgarh Sahib) Amolak Singh (Amritsar), Charanjit Singh (Gurdaspur) and Ravinder Singh, (Kapurthala).


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