Kathmandu, Oct. 21 (Reuters): A British army officer held captive along with six locals by Nepal’s Maoist rebels was set free today, officials said.
The seven men, kidnapped on Sunday in Baglung district in west Nepal during a drive to recruit Gurkha soldiers, were safe after they were released into the care of a local school teacher, district administrator Prem Narayan Sharma said.
A BBC film crew travelling with British comedian and television presenter Michael Palin witnessed the kidnapping. Palin's team was in the area filming the Gurkha recruitment drive as part of a new series on life in the Himalayan regions.
A London-based BBC producer, who spoke by phone to the crew after the incident, said no violence was involved. The crew was asked not to film but was not otherwise threatened.
”Some Maoists came along. They don't like the Gurkhas and wanted to stop the recruitment process,” the producer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
”They said they wanted to have a chat with a couple of the brigadiers who run the recruitment and they (the brigadiers) happily went along with them,” she said.
”The brigadiers probably thought the rebels wanted some money because this is what they usually ask for from trekkers and foreigners.”
The government sent soldiers and policemen early on Tuesday to hunt for the captives in the remote mountainous Maoist stronghold of Baglung, about 300 km (190 miles) west of Kathmandu.
”The Maoists released the captives after the rescue team reached the area,” Sharma said.“They are under the care of a school teacher at a place which is about four hours by foot from where they were picked up.”
”We are happy to say the missing team is reported safe and well,” added British embassy official in Kathmandu, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
The rebels, who have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with communist rule, oppose the recruitment of Gurkhas by Britain and India.
There are 3,400 Gurkhas in the British army and about 230 recruits are inducted annually. Known for their fighting skills, they have served with the British army for the past 187 years.
It was the first time the rebels, who draw their inspiration from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, kidnapped a foreigner. In the past, they have extorted money or stolen from foreign tourists visiting the scenic Himalayan kingdom.
More than 7,700 people have been killed in the revolt so far. Britain supports the government drive against the guerrillas.