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Abducted UK teacher's family fears the worst

April 15, 2004 15:19 IST

Professor Praful Deb's family fears the worst.

The retired London schoolteacher was abducted nearly a month ago by militants in Assam, and both the Indian and British governments have professed helplessness to assist the family,  reports the Times, London.

Deb's daughter Deepa Deb, a lawyer, told the Times how the family had sold or mortgaged everything it had in order to trace and seek the release of Deb, 67, who has a serious heart condition.

Local police reportedly advised them to pay the Rs 40 lakh rupees (approximately £60,000) demanded as ransom, the paper said. But after a series of meeting with the kidnappers, who took more than  Rs 80,000 (£10,000) from them, they are still to get proof that Professor Deb is alive, it said.

Praful Deb was abducted while he was in Assam to visit to his elderly mother and oversee some of the timber projects he had  invested in to help to find work for members of the Reang tribe. 'The three gunmen  in military fatigues, belong to an obscure group called the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) who are demanding an autonomous state for the Reang people,' said the Times. Two eyewitnesses and the driver, who were also abducted, were later freed with the ransom demand for Professor Deb. 

Subsquently, 'his wife (Shibani) and one of his daughters, Sipra, 31, a PhD student from Leeds University, hired a British-based private security company to travel with them to Assam to begin their own investigation. They mortgaged their home and took their life savings with them.

'In various telephone calls with intermediaries, the kidnappers agreed to reduce their demand to £10,000 (approx Rs 80,000) cash to be paid in two instalments. £5,000 was handed over at a bus stop on March 29 but the kidnappers broke their promise to prove Mr Deb was in good health. Both sides agreed to meet two days later but the kidnappers failed to turn up, and fixed a rendezvous for 72 hours later. This time, the kidnappers pulled guns, snatched another £5,000 in cash and fled,' said the Times.

Since then the trail has gone cold, the paper said. 

'The Foreign Office says he is an Indian citizen in India so it is not their jurisdiction. When we asked the Indian authorities for help they say my father is a non-resident Indian so it 's not their responsibility. So whose responsibility is it? We just want somebody to help us find him before it's too late,' the Times  quotes Deepa Deb as saying.  

'The longer the silence, the more we fear the worst," she continues. "Nobody will help us, neither the Indian nor British Governments or their police forces, and the Red Cross say they can't help so we are left to go it alone. A frail old man grabbed at gunpoint has been missing for a month and there is no trail, no clues as to his whereabouts or proof he is all right and no one but his family seem to care."  

And "their dread is that without his medication Mr Deb has died of heart failure and his abductors have just abandoned his body and fled, " the paper said.