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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 02:34 GMT
Missing woman's family pin hopes on Straw
Relatives of a woman who went missing in India five years ago are hoping a meeting with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Thursday will help reveal her fate.

Surjit Kaur Athwal: Fears of "honour killing"
Surjit Kaur Athwal was last seen in December 1998 when she flew to Punjab with her mother-in-law, leaving her two children behind with her husband at their home in Hayes, Middlesex.

She disappeared during the two-week holiday and the return portion of her ticket was never used.

In May 2000 after an investigation by the Metropolitan police, Mrs Athwal's husband, mother-in-law and two other members of her husband's family were arrested but subsequently released without charge.

Mrs Athwal's family has long been critical of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) efforts to locate her.

Her brother, Jagdeesh Singh, says her case has received far less attention than those of white Britons murdered or imprisoned abroad, such as Lucie Blackman, Ian Stillman, Peter Bleach or Kirsty Jones.

He said: "What it shows to us is a pattern of double standards. The FCO has made no effort at a ministerial level through either Jack Straw or the Prime Minister to raise Surjit's case.

"Why is it they can be so adept and so active in these other cases yet in contrast so inept in Surjit's case and the cases of other non-white nationals?"

'Will'

Mr Singh told BBC News Online they had been pressing for a meeting with the foreign secretary since Surjit's disappearance but had previously always been "fobbed off" with junior ministers.

But he said he was sure Jack Straw could now help to turn the case around in spite of the amount of time which had passed since his sister disappeared.

"It's a feeling based on already-demonstrated efforts by the foreign minister in other cases. We believe he can have the same impact, if he has the will, on Surjit's case," Mr Singh said.

His allegations against the FCO have been denied by a spokeswoman who said they treated all British nationals equally, regardless of their colour, race or sex.

"Our handling of every case is determined by an assessment of the local situation, the attitude of the local authorities, the likely reaction of the authorities to representations and pressure from us and the opportunities which present themselves to lobby and express our concerns," she told BBC News Online.


SEE ALSO:
The long search for Surjit
06 Nov 03  |  England



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