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India, Pakistan release prisoners

Last updated on: September 12, 2005 17:22 IST

The first batch of 435 Indian prisoners crossed over the Wagah border at 1.35 pm to India. Pakistan's Federal Minister of Interiors Waseem Sajjad is coordinating the release of prisoners from the Pakistani side and Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament Navjot Sidhu is doing the same on the Indian side.

Out of the 435 Indian prisoners released by Pakistan, 371 are fishermen and 64 civilian prisoners.

The decision to free those prisoners who had served their sentences and whose documentation was completed, was taken at the home secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, held in Delhi on August 29 and 30.

Some extra immigration staff has been deputed at the Wagah border for speedy clearance of documents as the formalities could take hours to complete.

Joyous and emotional scenes were witnessed on both sides of the border as the freed men walked into the arms of their relatives, many of whom had yearned for this moment for more than 10 years.

Suraj Bhan of Rajouli, Ambala, who was among the first prisoners to be released, told rediff.com 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.

All others who were released in the first batch were victims of the conspiracy of travel agents operating in Punjab.

Among the 152 Pakistani prisoners, 42 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 are being released on Monday, were brought to Amritsar prison on Sunday 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.

Among the two released from Delhi, one Pakistani national was set free from Lampur Leperosy house owned by Delhi Social Welfare Department.

Meanwhile, Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit Singh, along with his two daughters, has reached the Wagah border with a bagful of rakhis.

She hopes to tie a rakhi on each of the prisoners' wrists. "I have been waiting for this trip to tie rakhis on the wrist of my brother for years," she told rediff.com.

Kaur had requested Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf not to take a tough stand on her brother and release him on humanitarian grounds.

"There is a deliberate conspiracy in the Pakistan government to hold Sarabjit back. He is an innocent person languishing in jail. I hope when Dr Singh meets Musharraf, he takes up the issue," she said. "I will not slacken my campaign. If need be, I'll appeal to the US President Bush."

She claimed that Pakistani authorities had denied her a visa on the grounds that there would be riots in the country if she visited that country. "They said there could be attacks on me and my family as well. I don't believe that the people of Pakistan have anything to do with this. They, in fact, favour the release of Sarabjit," she said.

Radhay Shyam from Jammu, who was released from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail, said he had met Sarabjit and said that the latter was in 'good spirits'.

"My happiness at returning to my country is one-sided, not two-sided, because Sarabjit's sister raised the issue of her brother's release which was taken up by the media," said Mohammed Babbar, a Pakistani, who returned after 15 years. "I am grateful to Sarabjit's sister and the media because, inspired by them, my sister took up the struggle on my behalf and the Pakistan Human Rights Commission helped her. This made my release possible."

With inputs from PTI

Onkar Singh at the Wagah border