NEW DELHI: As India marks its 69th independence day, two Indian professors are still marking their time, hoping for their freedom from their abductors, even as fighting has intensified in the Libyan city of Sirte severely disrupting channels of communication.
Following conflict over the use of a mosque, clashes had broken out from since last Tuesday between the Islamic State that controls Sirte and the Farjan tribe, which was earlier allied to the Islamic State. There are reports of beheading and crucifixion of Sirte residents by the IS, who have also reportedly put a hospital on fire. This has complicated the delicate work to evacuate Hyderabadis, Gopikrishna and Balram, whose last known whereabouts was at a checkpoint about 50 km outside Sirte on the evening of July 29, when they were going to cross the Tunisia border on way to India.
Their co-travellers and colleagues, Lakshmikant and Vijay Kishore, were released within 48 hours, following intervention by the Sirte university authorities. However, there is still no sign of an end to the nightmare of the two other professors and their families. As in Iraq, Indian diplomacy is handicapped as it cannot be directly in touch with IS officials and has to go through various intermediaries, including university authorities and other local officials. Before the fighting erupted this week, Indian diplomats had learned that the two professors had been brought back to Sirte city, which had raised hopes of their quick release.
But as clashes spiral out with IS going all out to recapture parts of Sirte, there has been a breakdown, especially on communication channels. “They are not responding. The phone calls are not getting through. But, we are trying again and again,” said a source privy to the behind-the-scenes talks. So far, it is “status quo” about the fate of the two Indian teachers, with no new information gleaned in last few days. “We have not heard anything negative so far,” said the sources, when asked about whether the two Indians are safe.
The families of the two Indian professors had met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Aug 10. Indian embassy officials have been in contact with them daily to brief them about the situation.