Two missing Indian soldiers in US declared deserters

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New Delhi, Apr 21 (UNI) The Army today declared as ''deserters'' its two soldiers who had gone missing during training in the United States last month.

The two soldiers -- Sanjay Mahato and Santosh Thapa -- went missing on March 20, the last day of the ten-day joint exercise with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the US Army at Camp Pendleton in California.

The two soldiers, from 1/1 Gorkha Rifles, were part of a 120-man detachment that participated in the exercise, codenamed Shatrujeet 2008, a two-week joint operation to ''share knowledge and build interoperabililty for possible future operations.'' The Army had earlier declared the soldiers AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave).

''After the expiry of 30-day AWOL period, we have declared them as deserters as per the legal procedure followed by the Indian Army,'' officiating Army spokesman Lt Col A K Mathur said.

The Army had also ordered a court of inquiry into their disappearance.

Meanwhile, frantic search was on to trace 25-year-old Lt Abhishek R Naik, attached with 10 Sikh Light Infantry at Bhatinda in Punjab.

He has been reported missing from New Delhi Railway Station since April 6.

UNI AG PK RAI2038

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