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English News

EU calls for remaining restrictions in Kashmir to be ‘lifted swiftly’, acknowledges ‘positive steps’

A day after a visit to Kashmir by the envoys of 11 European Union (EU) states, the grouping on Friday called for the remaining restrictions in the region, including internet access and the detention of political leaders, to be “lifted swiftly”.

The EU ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, was also among the 25 envoys and deputy chiefs of missions who travelled to Jammu and Kashmir during February 12-13. Besides government and security officials, the diplomats interacted with government-approved groups of grassroots politicians, youth, journalists and traders.

In a statement, Virginie Battu-Henriksson, the EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, acknowledged both the “positive steps” taken by the Indian government to restore normalcy in Kashmir and New Delhi’s “serious security concerns” in the region. But she added that the EU believes more needs to be done to end the restrictions.

“The visit confirmed that the government of India has taken positive steps to restore normalcy. Some restrictions remain, notably on internet access and mobile services, and some political leaders are still in detention,” Battu-Henriksson said.

“While we recognise the serious security concerns, it is important that the remaining restrictions be lifted swiftly,” she added.

There was no immediate response to the statement from Indian officials.

The EU spokesperson said the visit of the envoys “presented a welcome opportunity to see the situation on the ground and to interact with local interlocutors” and the EU looked forward to “continuing the dialogue with India on the situation in the region”.

Besides the EU envoy, the ambassadors of Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia were in the second group of diplomats to be taken to Kashmir by the Indian government since the erstwhile state’s special status was revoked last August and it was split into two union territories.

The envoys of the EU states travelled to Kashmir just days before external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Munich for a security conference and to Brussels, where he is expected to engage with EU leaders on a range of issues, including the situation in Kashmir and India’s new citizenship law.

The inclusion of a dozen EU envoys in the delegation is also significant as the European Parliament is expected to vote on a resolution critical of the situation in Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) late in March.

The resolution was debated in the European Parliament in January but a vote was put off, following lobbying by India and with an eye to ensuring the smooth holding of the India-EU Summit in Brussels on March 13.

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