Diplomats from 15 countries visit Kashmir amid high security

SRINAGAR: Envoys from 15 countries began a two-day trip to India-administered Kashmir on Thursday, five months after the government ended a special status for the region and placed it under a security clampdown.
The trip organised by the Indian government is being seen as a diplomatic outreach amid international criticism of the violation of the rights of Kashmiris.
The team of envoys travelled in a convoy with tight security to the venue of their meetings at the military headquarters in Srinagar and to a luxury hotel where they met members of civil society.
“Adequate precautions were taken given the security threat,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said at a briefing in New Delhi.
Ambassadors of the United States, Norway, South Korea, Bangladesh and Vietnam are among the diplomats.
Kumar said reports in local media that some envoys from the European Union had refused to join the trip as they felt it was restricted were wrong.
“Some refused because it was at short notice… we will organise similar visits and EU ambassadors will join at a later date.”
Kumar said the delegation was kept diverse but small in view of “the security situation and threat posed by terrorism.”
The EU delegation in Delhi could not be reached for a response.
This is the first delegation of diplomats to visit Kashmir since the Modi government withdrew special status from the region on August 5 and imposed restrictions on movement and communications.
Thousands of troops were sent to the region and still remain deployed in large numbers.
The erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state was also split into two federally administered territories giving greater control to the Modi government.
Many restrictions including roadblocks and telephone service cuts have since been eased, but internet remains suspended and hundreds of politicians remain in detention.
“The objective of this visit is so that diplomats can see first hand the efforts made by the government to normalize the situation… see how things have progressed since August 5,” Kumar said.
As the situation improved further, Kumar said: “We can have freer interaction with a cross section of society.”
Kumar did not give details of whom the delegation met but said it included security officials and members of civil society and media. Local journalists said they were not informed of the meetings.
A group of European Parliament members visited the region in October.The visit was planned by a Delhi-based think-tank.
“The EU is interested in going and continues to be engaged with the MEA (ministry of external affairs) on timing and elements of the trip,” the source said.
Other Indian newspapers quoted government sources as saying that the EU baulked because the visit was at short notice and since it was not possible for all the bloc’s ambassadors to take part. — dpa