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Tears of joy... and sorrow too

By Our Staff Correspondent

CHANDIGARH Sept. 8. It was a tearful family reunion for 16 Punjabi young men who were repatriated by Pakistan as part of the ongoing `confidence-building measures' between the two countries. They carried a message warning others not to fall prey to unscrupulous travel agents.

Wg. Cdr. Changez Wali Khan of Pakistan Rangers handed over custody of the youths to Ganeshwar Kumar Sharma, BSF Commandant, this afternoon amid high security at the Wagah-Attari joint checkpost at the border. After the completion of the formalities, emotional scenes were witnessed when the youths embraced their kin.

There was a tinge of sadness in the reunion as the youths had sought greener pastures abroad and landed in difficulties. They had left their families two to six years ago, in many cases mortgaging or even selling off their lands here.

Talking to presspersons at Amritsar, they narrated their tale of woe — they were caught in Russia, Jordan, Lebanon and pushed into Turkey and Iran, from where the authorities pushed them into Pakistan. They were arrested and tried in court, where they were handed jail sentences from six months to two years. However, they could not be released, as there were no official diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan.

Harvinder Singh of Hoshiarpur said there were about 75 Indian prisoners languishing in Kot Lakhpat Central Jail. Of these, about 30 had lost their mental balance as they were home sick and suffered inhuman treatment from the authorities there. Many prisoners went into depression as the Pakistan authorities told them that India was not prepared to accept them.

Some relatives waiting to meet their kin were, however, in for bad news. Mukhtiar Singh of Fatehgarh Sahib district was disappointed not to spot his son Sukhinder Singh among the repatriates. He was informed that his son was in a serious condition in one of the jails in Pakistan. On hearing this, Mukhtiar Singh's wife took ill and had to be hospitalised.

Harpal Singh Bhullar of the Bhai Mardana Yadgari Kirtan Darbar Society, who has worked tirelessly for the release of these youths has put a poser to the Deputy Prime Minister. He said, ``If Mr. Advani could seek U.S.' intervention for the custody of 20 terrorists hiding in Pakistan, why is he and the Government silent regarding the hundreds of Indian-held prisoners in Pakistan? Why has the Government not taken up the issue of the release of 53 POWs held since the 1965 and 1971 wars?''

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