Sandal-clad holy man turned away from negotiating table

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 12:00am

A number of people offered their help to secure the release of the crew members during the crisis, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and former US presidential candidate Ross Perot.

But none was stranger than the Indian religious leader who offered his services yesterday morning.

Dr K. A. Paul, founder and president of the Houston-based Gospel to the Unreached Millions (GUM), showed up unannounced on the 23rd floor of the Hainan Mandarin Hotel, where a US diplomatic delegation led by Brigadier-General Neal Sealock is staying.

Dr Paul, 37, wearing a white robe and sandals, said he was from Chittivalsa, a small village south of Calcutta.

He claimed he was asked to go to Haikou by Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the US House of Representatives, and US Senator Tom DeLay.

'See, this [crisis] is something that should not have come this far, and it could get worse depending on what happens in the next two to three days,' Dr Paul told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

'As I was telling Newt this morning on his cell phone, I said 'Mr Gingrich, would you please come with me? We'll charter a plane'.'

When Mr Gingrich said he could not come, Dr Paul said he asked the former speaker to 'let them know that I am here and have them appoint me as a negotiator immediately. Not as an American but as a peacemaker'.

He told Ted Gong, head of the consular section at the US consulate in Guangzhou who has visited the crew five times with General Sealock: 'I would like to meet the general. I came here to pray with the general for a few minutes.'

Mr Gong replied: 'You know I think there isn't a role right now for you. But thanks very much for your concern . . . we're trying to work this thing through official channels.'

After the refusal, Dr Paul said: 'I'm quite disappointed. [He dismissed me] without even knowing what I do and who I am.'

He said his organisation was dedicated to 'global peace leadership'. 'GUM is not religious, even though I am a spiritual leader and a follower of Jesus. But I don't know whether I would call myself a Christian,' he said.

Asked if China should give the spy plane back, Dr Paul replied: 'Well I'm sure that they will send the plane back . . . but I don't know much about it. I'm concerned about people.'