July 1998 News

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American Wife Returns, Seeking Release of Hostage Husband

7th July 1998
The Rediff Specials

It is a lonely and desperate, may be even futile, search. But Jane Schelly, a school teacher from Spokane, US, has decided she cannot, will not, live with the disappearance of her husband who was abducted by militants in 1995.

Jane Schelly issued an emotional appeal: "I have returned to Kashmir yet again in search of my husband Donald Hatchlings who was abducted along with two Britons and one German three years back from Pahalgam, to seek information regarding his fate and condition."

The four hostages -- American Donald Hutchings, two Britons Keith Mangan and Paul Wells, and one German Dirk Hasert were abducted on July 4, 1995 from the upper reaches of Pahalgam. Even after three years their whereabouts are unknown.

In all, six foreign trekkers were abducted. One of them, John Childs of the US, escaped. On August 13 that year, Hans Christian Ostro of Norway was beheaded by the militants. His body was found near Aishmuqam.

Special teams from Scotland Yard and Bill Richardson, now a US energy secretary, also visited the valley at the time. The militants of Al-Faran, till then an unknown group, had demanded the release of 21 jailed militants of various organisations.

Later, when the Indian government refused to concede their demands, they reduced the number of militants they wanted released to 10. A captured militant later said the remaining hostages, among them Donald Hatchlings, had been killed by their captors.

Senior Jammu and Kashmir police officers admit that the state crime branch, entrusted the case by the government, has so far failed to trace the hostages.

The crime branch team, headed by an senior superintendent of police, had announced rewards for clues. However, their efforts have drawn a blank so far.

There have been reports of sighting of the tourists in upper reaches but, after the December 8 encounter at Dabran, the crisis took a new turn when Al-Faran chief Hamid Turkey was killed along with five others. The police blamed Harkatul Ansar for the abduction but the organisation, now named Harkatul Mujaheedin, has denied its involvement.

"But somebody in Kashmir must be knowing what happened to my husband. I beg that anyone who has any information regarding his whereabouts should come forward to put an end to my uncertainty," says Jane.

She adds, "I need to know if he is alive and, if he has been killed, where his body is. I want to bury him with peace and dignity."

On Friday, Jane visited Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and distributed appeals along with photographs of the tourists. On this occasion, the former chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference appealed that the abductors provide information regarding the fate of the four tourists.

"I appeal to Al-Faran on behalf of the APHC and Kashmiris to release the tourists if they are still alive," he said, adding, "If they are dead they should then provide information to their relatives."

Jane has been meeting separatist leaders and government officials to know about their efforts. She says that "so far I have spent $ 50,000 on my visits to the valley. I have continued my job in Spokane. I teach sports to the students who often ask if I have heard anything regarding my husband. They always ask why he was taken."

She adds, "I long for an answer that will unite me with my husband. Or, if he has been killed, it at least closes a chapter in my life. Till I get that answer I will continue efforts with the help of my friends and family who are my support and comfort."


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