EU nations, except Norway, refused to take part in a rare diplomatic visit to disputed India-administered Kashmir, where New Delhi's lockdown after annexation continues since August 5.
The European Union refused to take part in a rare diplomatic visit to India-administered Kashmir starting on Thursday because they will not be allowed to meet detained local politicians, reports said.
India took the envoys from 15 countries, including the United States, to the disputed region – the first visit by New Delhi-based diplomats since the right-wing Indian government stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status and imposed a harsh crackdown five months ago.
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.
But diplomats who agreed to visit the region, in what has been slammed as "guided tour" by opponents, were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport to the military headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed on the security situation, an army officer said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
They also held discussions with civil society members and some Kashmiri politicians, said Raveesh Kumar, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman.
The objective of the visit organised by the Indian government was for the envoys to see first-hand "how things have progressed and how normalcy has been restored to a large extent" in Kashmir since August, Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
India's Hindu nationalist-led government ended Muslim-majority Kashmir's semi-autonomous status in August, key to Kashmir's 1947 accession treaty with India.
The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the 500,000 already deployed there, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.
Authorities have since eased several restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and cellphone services. Internet service is yet to be restored in the Kashmir valley.
They have encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but top political leaders, including those from pro-resistance groups, from the region, continue to be under arrest or detention.
Outside access to the region remains limited, with no foreign journalists allowed to visit since the clampdown began.
No contact with the public
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 the Indian government's attempt to give the impression that life has returned to normal.
Diplomats representing the US, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, the Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Argentina, the Philippines, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Peru, and Togo comprised the delegation visiting on Thursday.
The offices, shops, and businesses were open in Srinagar on a cold winter day, but the diplomats did not stop to talk to people as they moved to different venues of their meetings.
They were to fly to Jammu, the winter capital of India-administered Kashmir, later Thursday and return to the Indian capital on Friday after spending a day there.
Kumar said more such visits to Kashmir by New Delhi-based diplomats were likely in the near future.
Jairam Ramesh, a leader of the opposition Congress party, on Thursday, criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for not yet allowing Indian political leaders to visit the troubled region.
Modi said the audacious August 5 move was to end "a vicious cycle of terrorism, violence, separatism, and corruption" and make Kashmir a "paradise once more."
But Kashmiris say the move was unilateral and New Delhi's ultimate plan is to change the demographics of the Muslim region by settling Hindu outsiders. Pakistan says the "illegal annexation" of the portion of the disputed territory by India is "unacceptable."
A 'select' foreign envoy goes into the world's most mil. zone w/ doc. accnts of gruesome torture, cust. deaths & EDs for decades, under a lockdown for 158 days - to speak w/ the Forces?— Sidrah (@SidrahDP) January 9, 2020
For a machinery that has diligently to erase the agency of Kashmir, just another charade. https://t.co/cFco7XkhzT
Kashmir has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between nuclear rivals Pakistan and India.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule.
Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.
The Indian military has been accused of suppressing the Kashmiri uprising using brutal tactics, including the infamous pellet guns which have wounded or blinded many Kashmiris.