The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal steps in for boy freedom

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Atal Bihari Vajpayee has stepped in to get Pakistani teenager Muneer who strayed into India in June released from police custody.

The Prime Minister has directed that the 13-year-old, who was arrested on June 26 by the Border Security Force and handed over to police in Rajasthan’s Sriganganagar district the next day, be returned to his family at the earliest.

Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “Efforts are on to have Muneer sent back to Pakistan by Tuesday. The decision has been taken as a very special case…”

The boy’s plight has been reported in the media over the last few weeks and human rights activists in Rajasthan and Delhi were planning to meet Vajpayee to get him released.

Muneer hails from Bhatu village in Bahawalpur, Sind. He strayed into India while on his way to his maternal uncle’s house.

Muneer was handed over to Kesrisinghpur police by the BSF and was found to have no identification papers, only a mere Pakistani Rs 11.

After five days of interrogation, police established that Muneer had strayed across the border by mistake.

But the boy, who was kept at the Sriganganagar lock-up, did not realise he had crossed into India, thinking instead that he was in some other Pakistan village.

The local superintendent of police alerted the Union home ministry to Muneer’s case. News reports about the boy caught South Block’s eye and led Vajpayee to step in.

Muneer is likely to be brought to Delhi and the Pakistan High Commission allowed access to him.

The Prime Minister’s humanitarian gesture comes within weeks of India’s offer to provide free treatment, travel and stay for 20 Pakistani children who wish to be treated in hospitals here.

The offer forms part of the people-to-people contact that Vajpayee wants to establish between the two countries since he initiated the peace process with Islamabad in April.

The positive public response to two-and-a-half-year old Noor Fatima when she visited Bangalore for heart surgery recently has encouraged Delhi to take steps that will strengthen relations between the people of the two countries.

“People-to-people contact is a very important part of the step-by-step process initiated by the Prime Minister,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.

He added that the decision on Muneer was taken keeping in mind the momentum generated by Vajpayee’s initiative.

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