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December 26, 1999
Official begins talks with hijackers
A high-level Indian team comprising seven officials has left New Delhi for Afghanistan. They are accompanied by a team of pilots.
Senior official in the Indian high commission in Islamabad, A R Ganshyam has reached Afghanistan this afternoon to assess the situation and keep the Indian government posted on the latest developments.
He is now in the Kandahar air traffic control, and is holding talks with the hijackers along with UN official Erik de Mul.
The Union Cabinet will meet at 1815 hours today.
The Indian authorities will also speak to the United Nations delegation that visited Kandahar on Sunday before arriving at a decision.
As of now, New Delhi's stand remains the same: "We are keeping all options open."
The Taleban government has made it abundantly clear that it wants an Indian delegation in Kandahar to negotiate directly with the hijackers, failing which it would order the plane out of its territory.
Meanwhile, sources at the United Nations said that India has not as yet officially approached it for help. Its delegation visited Kandahar purely on 'humanitarian grounds', the officials said, 'and had nothing whatsoever to do with negotiating.'
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for his part, has assured the relatives of the passengers that his first priority is the lives of the people involved.
He appointed a special spokesman to keep the relatives posted on the happenings. Thus, there will two briefings for them Monday -- at 0011 hours and 1700 hours at the Centaur hotel in New Delhi.
For the relatives, however, neither Sunday night nor Monday morning brought any relief. Most of them preferred to stay at home. The few who trickled into the lounge at the Delhi airport, as usual, were glued to the television sets.
"We don't get any information," one of the relatives said. "What we get is from the TV and even they do not have anything new to say."
Meanwhile, reports from Kandahar said that the condition inside the plane has 'worsened,' and that the air inside was 'very bad.'
Earlier, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh had accused Pakistan of supporting the hijackers. He said they had boarded the Indian plane in Kathmandu directly from a Pakistan International Airlines flight.
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