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Foreign envoys visit Kashmir; meet SMC Mayor, DDC, municipal members

Foreign envoys from 23 different countries, who arrived here on Wednesday on a two-day long visit to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the overall ground situation in the Union Territory (UT), met newly elected District Development Council (DDC) and municipal members, besides Srinagar Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu.

This is the third visit of envoys from foreign countries since August 5, 2019 when centre abrogated Article 370 and 35A besides dividing the erstwhile state into two Union Territories (UTs) and detaining almost all mainstream leaders, including three former Chief Ministers—Dr Farooq Abdullah , Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Officials said after arriving at the Srinagar International Airport, the 23-member delegation was taken to a government college in central Kashmir district of Budgam where they were briefed about the strengthening of local bodies, including panchayat and DDCs.

They said security has been beefed up in Srinagar city and other parts of Kashmir valley in view of the visit of the high-profile delegation, which consists of representatives from Ireland, France, Malaysia, Brazil, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Senegal, Cuba, Chile, Portugal, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Estonia, Bolivia, Malawi, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh. Additional security forces were also deployed on the Airport road to prevent any demonstration while a security force bunker on the airport road was removed on Tuesday.

DDC chairman, Budgam, Nazir Ahmad Khan said the members discussed various developmental related issues with the delegation. “It has been a month since we were elected and it is a great honour that we received this opportunity to meet with the foreign delegation. We briefed the delegation about our development schemes, the work which has been done and the ones which are in progress,” Khan said after interacting with the delegation. We discussed only development and nothing else, he said adding the response was positive.

However, it was not immediately clear if nine members of the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (APGD) were also invited for the meeting with envoys.

Officials said after meeting panch and sarpanch in Budgam, the delegation reached Hotel Lalit on the bank of world famous Dal Lake this afternoon, where the Srinagar Mayor received them. “Besides the Srinagar Mayor, newly elected DDC chairpersons, BDC chairpersons and Municipal Council Chairpersons interacted with the delegation,” they said.

This is the first visit of the foreign envoys after 4G internet service was restored in Jammu and Kashmir since August 15, 2019 and successful election of DDC chairpersons.

No invitation has been so far extended to leaders of mainstream political parties from opposition.

The envoys also visit Hazratbal shrine, which houses the Holy Relic of Prophet Muhammad, on the bank of Dal Lake. “The delegation will meet some civil society members,” they added.

They said the envoys will also be briefed about over all law and order situation in the valley and security situation along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) with Pakistan.

Tomorrow, the delegation will visit Jammu where they are likely to meet Lt Governor Manoj Singh and other security officials.

Envoys from 17 nations, including the US, visited Jammu and Kashmir last year while a delegation of 23 European Union MPs visited the Union Territory three months after the centre abrogated Article 370 and Article 35 A, besides dividing the erstwhile state into two Union Territories.

Former CM and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said anybody can visit here and envoys should be allowed to meet everyone so that they can receive first-hand information of the situation in J&K.

Ms Mehbooba said the visit has been tailored by the Centre as the envoys would be allowed to meet selected people. “If the centre actually wants to show the foreign dignitaries the real situation in J&K, they would allow the envoys to meet everyone,” Ms Mehbooba said.

She said everyone is welcome to visit Kashmir, but restrictions should not be put on the movement of local leaders.

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