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|February 9, 1999
'I won't believe Keith is dead until they give me proof'
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Jammu and Kashmir Minister of State for Home Mushtaq Ahmad Lone's announcement that the search for the four foreign tourists abducted by Al-Faran militants will continue has extended traumatic hope to the victims' relatives.
"The issue is very much alive and cannot be closed until we get an answer," Mushtaq Lone told a British tabloid recently. "We cannot say for certain whether they are dead or alive".
The tourists -- American Donald Hutchings, Britons Keith Managan and Paul Wells, German Dirk Hasert and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro -- were kidnapped from the upper reaches of Pahalgam in South Kashmir in July 1995. Ostro was beheaded days after the incident.
"I have breathed new life into the hunt since my appointment (with Indian authorities) six months ago," Mavis Mangan, mother of Keith, said while speaking to the tabloid, "I won't believe Keith is dead until they give me some proof".
She vowed to keep her son in the public eye: "I will make sure they do not forget my son as long as I have breath left in my body".
The Al-Faran had demanded the release of five jailed militants of the Harkatul Ansar group, including its former chief commander Sajjad Afghani, presently lodged in a Delhi jail.
The relatives had visited the valley several times to meet government officials, religious political and separatist leaders. There have been reports of sightings of the tourists, but none has yet been confirmed.
"The last time they were sighted was days before the Dabran encounter in South Kashmir in which top foreign militant Hamid Turkey along with four associates were killed in December 1995," said a police officer.
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