Hotel siege ends as Beijing officials intervene

The two Indian traders, who have been holed up in a hotel in this southern Chinese trading town and facing threats to their lives, were released on Wednesday evening, after more than two weeks of forced detention following a bitter trade dispute with local businessmen.

The ending of the two-day siege of the Yiwu hotel, where they were in hiding, came after officials in Beijing intervened and told local authorities to enable their release, sources told The Hindu.

Officials from the Indian Consulate in Shanghai escorted the two Indians, Deepak Raheja and Shyamsunder Agrewal, away from the hotel amid heavy police security, and took them to Shanghai, which is 250 km away from this city. The two traders surrendered their documents and promised to abide by a court order preventing them from leaving the country.

Throughout Wednesday, groups of Chinese businessmen and hired plainclothes toughs stood watch over the entrance to the Korgan Hotel, preventing Indians, including this correspondent, from entering the hotel. The hotel is located right next to a police station.

However, no policemen were in sight, even though three black cars, belonging to local businessmen and carrying six thickset men, stood parked right in front of the hotel. Two other burly men, dressed in black, watched over its entrance, standing less than 100 yards from the Changwai police station that sits on a busy downtown Yiwu street.

The Foreign Ministry said in Beijing on Wednesday that “local police have taken measures to ensure their security.” “Public security officials of Yiwu have adopted criminal enforcement measures against five suspects who were involved in illegal detention, and the relevant case is due for investigation,” spokesperson Hong Lei said at a briefing.

But even on Wednesday morning, the men in plainclothes broke into the Indian traders' room and tried to kidnap them, Mr. Raheja told The Hindu in a telephone interview. Mr. Raheja, along with Mr. Agerwal, was taken captive by businessmen on December 14, after the owner of the company they worked for, thought to be from Yemen, fled Yiwu, owing Chinese businessmen more than 10 million RMB ($1.58 million).

They were denied food and drink and assaulted during their captivity, and taken into police protection following a court hearing on December 31, 2011.

They have since been kept in the Korgan Hotel, a modest five-storey building. While two police officers had been assigned to guard their room, they appeared to often vacate their posts, leaving the Indians fearful for their safety over two traumatic days.

“We are getting desperate,” Mr. Raheja said over telephone on Wednesday afternoon, speaking from his room on the third floor. “We cannot stay here another day. Tomorrow, I am willing to jump from the window if I have to.”

Local authorities had earlier appeared unwilling to release the traders and incur the anger of influential local businessmen thought to be involved in the case. “Good sense finally prevailed after Beijing stepped in,” an Indian official said. “We simply cannot tolerate a situation where kidnapping becomes a way to handle trade disputes.”

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