Gilgit-Baltistan: Foreign Tourists Stranded in GB Evacuated

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GILGIT (Dawn): The Gilgit-Baltistan authorities evacuated on Sunday scores of foreign tourists who had been stranded in the region since April 3 when a curfew was imposed in Gilgit after sectarian clashes claimed at least 14 lives.

They were brought to Gilgit from various places in the region and later sent to Islamabad by a C-130 plane, police officials said.

But efforts to free 32 people held hostage by some elements in Nagar are yet to bear fruit. A team comprising ministers and members of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council held talks with the captors and went to Gilgit to meet some clerics when they were told to discuss the matter with Aga Rahatul Hussaini. The team has returned to Nagar for further talks.

“We have no clue as to what has been discussed and we may be able to contact the team late in the night because cellphones are not receiving signals at the moment,” a police official told Dawn. He said he hoped all hostages would be released by Monday.

DSP Tahira Yasubuddin said 65 Japanese nationals were evacuated from Hunza where they had attended a Cherry Blossom festival, while 20 Japanese tourists were stuck in Gilgit.

She said most of the evacuated foreigners were from Japan, and some from China and other countries.

The Chinese nationals, she said, had been evacuated from Hunza and other areas.

The curfew was in force in Gilgit for the sixth day. There was a two-hour relaxation only on Friday. The Gilgit-Baltistan region remained cut off from the rest of the country because of suspension of traffic on Karakoram Highway.

According to reports reaching here from several parts of the region, people were facing a shortage of foodstuff and medicines.

Meanwhile, military and police personnel raided houses and hideouts of suspected troublemakers and arrested some of them, DSP Tahira Yasubuddin said.

“We have made some arrests and will continue our raids.” She said the chief of a banned organisation had been arrested and more troublemakers would be nabbed soon.

Police registered an FIR against 20 activists of a banned outfit in connection with the Chilas incident. Police found a huge quantity of arms, including SMGs, 7mm rifles, pistols and guns, during raids in the Konodas area of Gilgit.

Police have removed flags of banned organisations from the area. Loudspeakers have also been removed from the central Imamia mosque and Masjid Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat in Gilgit.

AFP adds: Around 120 foreigners, including Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean and Thai tourists, were evacuated from Gilgit, officials at the Islamabad airport said.

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