Sunday, July 27, 2003

MADRAS, India — Two Chinese taken prisoner during the 1962 Sino-Indian war have been released and reunited with their families after 41 years — much of it spent in a mental asylum in eastern India.

The release of the two POWs was conceived as a goodwill gesture and set in motion during a summit in China last month between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, Indian Foreign Ministry sources said.

Yang Chen and Shih Liang had been held as spies in a New Delhi jail for three years before being transferred to the Central Institute of Psychiatry [CIP], a mental asylum in Ranchi in eastern India, where they had remained until their release at the beginning of this month. Both men are in their 60s.

CIP administrators said officials from the Chinese Embassy arrived at the asylum last month accompanied by Indian Home and Foreign Ministry officials to conduct the release.

Unlike the hundreds of ordinary patients sent to the facility for treatment by doctors or by their families, the two Chinese had been detained there under a special prisoner status.

The two were turned over to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on July 6 to be sent back to China, said Pradeep Kumar, the deputy commissioner of Ranchi.

“It turned out to be a long haul because the records showing their identity and other details had to be pieced together and ascertained. However, we feel better that they are now freed,” Mr. Kumar said.

Indian army officials had thought at the time of their arrests that Mr. Yang was a fighter pilot, and that Mr. Shih was his flight officer. But there has been no satisfactory explanation for their transfer to the CIP in 1965.

CIP authorities maintain that the two were patients and that they had been sent by the New Delhi jail authority for treatment of psychiatric illnesses.

But a former senior psychiatrist, who said he had attended the two at the time of their arrival, told The Washington Times that the men had not been sick but had been sent there under a special order from the Indian Home Ministry.

During an interview inside the walled institution in August 2000, the two were able to communicate only with signs and gestures as they spoke neither Hindi nor English. Mr. Yang shuffled around the hospital using a walking stick because of his ailing knees, but Mr. Shih appeared to be in good health.

One medical attendant at the hospital said at that time that the two had suffered from minor schizophrenia-related problems when they were brought in but had recovered more than 30 years ago.

“They have been forgotten by both countries. They don’t have anywhere to go, and so they remain here,” the attendant said.

Hospital officials said they had received no instructions regarding the two from either the Indian government or the army for decades.

Only after local journalists publicized their plight three years ago did India begin action to send the two men home. But the Chinese government at first refused to agree that the men were Chinese, one Indian Foreign Ministry official said.

“China took time to investigate the case on their own. About two years ago, finally, Beijing accepted the two as Chinese and started diplomatic lobbying for their return to China,” the official said.

“Then, finally, on his recent trip to China, Mr. Vajpayee agreed to hand the POWs over to Beijing.”

Chinese Embassy officials have been reluctant to discuss the case, but one embassy source said the prisoners have been reunited with their families in Sichuan province.

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