Indian Army probing soldiers’ desertion in US

March 28th, 2008 - 4:27 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 28 (IANS) The Indian Army is probing the circumstances under which two soldiers deserted while on a training exercise in the US. “A court of enquiry has been ordered as to how the two soldiers managed to slip away,” an officer said Friday, seeking to downplay the incident.

“There’s hardly a battalion where at any one time, two or three soldiers are not AWOl (absent without official leave). Of course, when it happens abroad, it takes on a different colour,” the officer added.

The two soldiers, Sanjay Mahato and Santosh Thapa, belong to the 1/1 Gorkha Rifles. They were part of a 100-man detachment that participated in a 10-day exercise with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Pendleton in California.

The exercise began March 10 and concluded March 20. The two soldiers disappeared on the last day of the drill.

“We’ve declared the soldiers AWOL. They will be termed deserters if they don’t appear in the next few days,” the officer said, adding it was highly unlikely they would return.

According to the officer, the two soldiers did not have their passports, as they were in the custody of the contingent leader, a colonel.

The US defence department lodged a complaint with the local police soon after the soldiers disappeared. “We are awaiting the outcome of those investigations and are also conducting our own enquiry,” the officer said.

In December, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed a case against an Indian Army brigadier for abetting a passport scam.

Brig. H.P.S. Bedi, posted in the ceremonial and welfare directorate of the army, was charged with obtaining without authorisation a diplomatic passport when he was only entitled to an official passport.

The wife of a serving colonel has also been charged with fraudulently obtaining an official passport without being entitled to one.

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