Pakistan frees Indian soldier, family overjoyed (Roundup)

Islamabad/Amritsar, Jan 21 (IANS) Pakistan on Saturday released Indian Army soldier Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan, who had “inadvertently” crossed the LoC in September last year. Chavan was handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah-Attari joint check post, a Border Security Force (BSF) official confirmed in Amritsar.

Chavan was handed over to Army authorities after his return to India, he said.

Sepoy Chavan’s kin and residents of his native village Bohivir in northern Maharashtra were overjoyed on his release. His family thanked authorities for securing his safe return.

Chavan, 22, of 37 Rashtriya Rifles, was taken into custody by Pakistan Army after he “inadvertently” crossed the Line of Control (LoC) from Krishna Ghati sector in Jammu and Kashmir on September 29 last year.

Pakistan Army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said in a statement that Chavan “deserted his post at the LOC due to his grievances of maltreatment against his commanders”.

“He wilfully crossed LOC on September 29, 2016 and surrendered himself to Pakistan Army,” he said.

He added that “as a gesture of goodwill and in continuation of our efforts to maintain peace and tranquility along LoC and IB (International Border), Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan has been convinced to return to his own country and will be handed over to Indian authorities at Wagah Border on humanitarian grounds.”

The incident took place just hours after the Indian forces carried out surgical strikes on September 29 across the Line of Control to destroy terrorist launch pads.

The Indian Army said that they had got confirmation by Pakistan military authorities that Chavan would be handed over at 3 p.m. and the soldier was finally handed over.

“Sep Chandu Babulal Chavan crossed over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir from own Krishna Ghati sector on September 29. In order to ensure his release the matter was taken up with Pakistani Military authorities through the existing hotline and scheduled DGMO level talks,” the army statement said.

In Chavan’s native village, scores of villagers came out into the streets to greet his family, who were overwhelmed by the unexpected turn of events, laughing and crying at the same time.

Chavan’s elder brother Bhushan said: “We are extremely grateful to the government for securing his safe release. We shall remain indebted to (Minister of State for Defence) Subhash Bhamre for all his help in ensuring his return home.”

“It is unbelievable and the news is still sinking in. We are so happy… for us, its like all festivals — Diwali, Holi — coming together simultaneously and we shall celebrate when he comes home after such a long time,” his married sister Rupali Patil said wiping away tears of joy.

After hearing the news of Chavan’s capture, his aged grandmother suffered a heart attack and died a few days later.

Indian Army sources said that Chavan will go through a medical check up and will be subsequently debriefed.

They said that since the soldier was coming from a “hostile nation”, the army will have to check for any radicalisation that might have happened.

Debriefing will help know what the soldier might have been subjected to, sources added.

The surgical strikes in September last year came in the wake of an attack on an Indian army base near the town of Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18. Nineteen Indian soldiers died in the attack, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-backed militants, a claim flatly denied by Islamabad.

–IANS

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