SRINAGAR: Indian government forces stand guard as a foreign delegation, including representatives of the United States but not the European Union, arrives in Srinagar yesterday. – AFP

NEW DELHI: The European Union refused to take part in a rare diplomatic visit to Indian Kashmir which started yesterday because they will not be allowed to meet detained local politicians, reports said. The two-day foreign diplomatic trip is the first since New Delhi stripped the restive Himalayan region of its autonomy and sent in tens of thousands of extra troops in August.

The security lockdown and communications blackout, still only partially lifted, has drawn international criticism including in Brussels and Washington. “EU envoys don’t want a guided tour of Kashmir. We want to meet people freely of our own choosing,” the NDTV news channel quoted one European diplomatic source as saying. In particular they wanted to meet three former chief ministers, Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who are still locked up, daily newspaper The Hindu reported. The three have been under house arrest or kept at a government residence since August.

The foreign ministry said that envoys from 15 countries — including the United States, South Korea, Nigeria and Argentina — would take part in the visit to the region, which is also claimed by Pakistan. A diplomatic source told AFP that the EU, which has been pressing for months to access to some of those detained, was still keen to go at a later date. “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. Those going would be “free to interact with people subject to security considerations. No ambassador, however, had specifically asked to meet anyone who was detained,” the Times of India quoted a source as saying.

In October, around 30 European lawmakers — many from far-right parties — visited but without the official blessing of the EU and the Indian government insisted it was a “private” initiative. Critics said that visit was a government’s attempt to give the impression that life has returned to normal. Foreign journalists have also not been allowed into the area since August, when Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state were stripped of its partial autonomy and split into two regions ruled directly from New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the move was to boost the local economy and end decades of violence that has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians. There is still barely any internet access and only around half of mobile phones work. New Delhi says this is to stop militants communicating, who it says are backed by Islamabad. India and Pakistan, who Kashmir was spilt between at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, have fought two of their three wars over the territory. – AFP