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E.U., other envoys head to Jammu and Kashmir to study 'situation on the ground'

Authorities remove bunkers from roads ahead foreign diplomats’ visit to Jammu and Kashmir, in Srinagar on February 16, 2021.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto is expected to lead a delegation of Ambassadors, including some from European countries to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, beginning with Srinagar, in a visit expected to study the “situation on the ground” there ahead of PM Modi’s visit to Porto in May for the E.U.-India summit. The visit has received some criticism from leaders in the Union Territory including former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who said such “guided tours” would serve “no purpose”.

 

While the visit of the envoys has not been officially announced, the European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) confirmed their acceptance of the MEA’s invitation.

 

“The Ambassador of the E.U. has accepted an invitation from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to pay a visit to Kashmir. Ambassadors of EU Member States will also join,” Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy told The Hindu in a written reply.

 

“Any such visit organised by the Indian authorities would help to inform the E.U. of the situation on the ground, as part of the E.U.’s wider outreach and contacts,” Ms. Massrali said, referring to the previous visits organised by the government last year.

 

According to sources, in addition to Mr. Astuto, Ambassadors from France, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia, and Italy  are expected to be part of the delegation, as well as envoys from other regions like Bangladesh, Chile, Brazil, and Ghana.

According to Jammu&Kashmir officials, arrangements are being made for about 20 Ambassadors and diplomats. In Srinagar, workers were seen dismantling scores of security bunkers and barricades on Tuesday, especially those dotting the main road connecting the Srinagar airport with the city, in an apparent bid to decrease the visibility of security personnel.

 

An official said the outreach being planned this week “is more extensive” compared to the previous two visits. “Representatives of the District Development Council (DDC), elected in December last year, will provide a fresh perspective of the ground situation,” another official said.

 

The J&K administration has extended invitations to Valley-based civil society groups, media persons and grassroots representatives and DDC members, to meet the delegation. However, no meetings with former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti or senior political leaders have been included in the agenda thus far. Ahead of their visit to the valley last year, the Ambassadors had asked to meet the former CMs, who were all in detention.

 

“We’ve seen these guided tours in the past particularly, in the immediate aftermath of August 5, 2019. They serve no purpose because the visiting delegation is allowed to meet only hand-picked individuals. If this proposed delegation is going to do the same thing, this visit will be as pointless as previous ones,” Mr. Abdullah told The Hindu.

 

“However, if the delegation comes to meet us, we will not stop them. Our doors are open,” another leader from the regional party said.

 

Officials said the delegation is also likely to visit a government-run degree college in Budgam district, tour the Dal lake and pay a visit to the famous Hazratbal shrine, before moving on to Jammu.

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