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LOVED ONES THANKFUL FOR WORD ON CAPTIVES

Fearful that their loved ones might be dead, the wives and girlfriends of four Western hostages sent personal questions to the Kashmiri separatists who captured them. The women thanked the rebels today for the answers.

"It has greatly relieved and comforted us," they said in a joint statement. "We now look forward to the speedy release of our loved ones."Diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rebels conveyed the questions to the hostages Monday and one of them returned the answers in a radio conversation with Indian negotiators on Tuesday.

The answers were reported today in The Hindustan Times:

-Dirk Hasert, 26, of Erfurt, Germany, named the movie theater where he first met his girlfriend.

-Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England, named the school where he and his wife studied.

-Paul Wells, 23, of London, gave the date that he and his girlfriend first met.

-Donald Hutchings, 42, of Spokane, Wash., relayed the answers by radio, but did not answer questions.

Since the kidnappings in early July, the Al-Faran rebels have only occasionally provided proof that their hostages were alive.

"We, the relatives of Don, Dirk, Keith and Paul, welcome the news that all four are alive and well," the women said in their statement, issued by the British Embassy. "We are grateful to Al-Faran for this humanitarian gesture."

The women, Hutchings' wife, Jane; Mangan's wife, Julie; Wells' girlfriend, Katherine Mosley; and Hasert's girlfriend, Anna Katrine Hasert, are staying at the embassy.

Al-Faran has demanded that India free 15 jailed Kashmiri militants in exchange for the hostages' release, but New Delhi has refused to do that.

Two weeks ago, the rebels beheaded a fifth hostage, Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro, and threatened to kill the others. A sixth hostage, John Childs, 41, of Simsbury, Conn., escaped shortly after being captured.

The rebels had earlier said the hostages were wounded in a battle with Indian forces in the Himalayan Mountains. They released photographs showing the men with bandages, but India denied the battle took place.