Ambassadors from European countries have rejected India's invitation for a two-day visit to occupied Kashmir, seeking instead the "freedom to meet the people unescorted", several Indian media outlets reported on Wednesday.
According to Associated Press, envoys from 15 countries including the United States are visiting occupied Kashmir starting from Thursday (today) for two days, the first by New Delhi-based diplomats since India revoked the special status of the region and imposed a harsh crackdown in August 2019.
The diplomats are expected to meet civil society members and government officials during their visit to Srinagar and Jammu, officials said. Details are not immediately available, but they are expected to receive a briefing on the security situation from various agencies.
The Press Trust of India news agency said diplomats representing Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, the Maldives, South Korea, Morocco and Nigeria will be part of the delegation.
According to NDTV, European diplomats said they didn't want a "guided tour" of the occupied territory and "would visit later and meet the people they want to meet".
Quoting diplomatic sources, The Hindu reported that diplomats from EU had decided not to accept the invitation and asked for "more freedom to travel and meet people unescorted".
Consequently, the Indian government has decided to organise a separate visit for the European envoys at a later date, the report added. The report says Australia, Afghanistan and the Gulf countries were also invited for the visit but declined due to "other commitments".
"While many ambassadors are still on winter vacations and have not returned to Delhi, some are dealing with the fallout of US-Iran tensions on the region," the report said, quoting diplomats.
"When asked, government sources denied any suggestion that EU envoys had pulled out due to restrictions in the programme, saying the government was unable to accommodate all 28 countries on this trip," The Hindu said.
In October of last year, a group of European Parliament members had visited occupied Kashmir. Nearly 30 Euro MPs, drawn mainly from extreme right-wing parties, were the first international delegation to visit occupied Kashmir since India imposed a security clampdown in August last year. While the Indian government projected the visit as a sign of easing restrictions, the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved, raising some diplomatic doubts.
The lockdown in the occupied region has crossed 150 days with the security and communication clampdown now in its fifth month.
With international pressure mounting to restore freedoms, Indian authorities claim they have 'eased' some restrictions, such as lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and some mobile phone services. The scenario for 12.5 million Kashmiris, however, is far from normal.