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MEPs lacked ‘expertise’ on Kashmir, New Delhi should allow U.N. observers to assess Valley situation: Finland’s FM

Dismissing the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) who visited Kashmir as lacking “expertise”, Finland has asked India to allow UN observers and Delhi-based diplomats to travel to the Union Territory and assess the situation there.

Finland currently holds the EU Council Presidency.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, who held meetings in New Delhi with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday, said he had raised “concerns” over the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, including about “human rights, freedom of speech and the detention of politicians”.

“At least if the diplomatic community based in Delhi could visit the region, it would create more confidence about what is going on. Transparency of the situation is better as otherwise all kinds of rumours and reports are floating around,” Mr. Haavisto said in an interview to The Hindu.

He said the Modi government had noted his recommendations, but not responded to them yet.

He added that the government had apprised him of New Delhi’s efforts “to calm the region and fight terrorism”.

“[The MEP delegation sent] was not, in my understanding, a multi-party and politically balanced delegation,” Mr. Haavisto continued, referring to the largely right-wing parties from Europe that were given a tour of Srinagar last week. “It is good if people who have expertise about the situation in this region or on human rights, freedom of the media issues etc. are involved. As a former UN person, I would rely on United Nations observers, and in this kind of situation they may be the most unbiased.”

When asked about the proposal by Mr. Haavisto for UN observers to be sent, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told journalists that ministers had discussed the matter, but that the “intent, context of visit & ground situation has to be taken into account” before any such visit would be considered.

Mr. Haavisto also called the tensions between India and Pakistan “unsustainable” and advised the two sides to begin dialogue for a “final settlement” of the Kashmir conflict.

The comments from the Finnish Foreign Minister are a part of a growing number of calls to the government for more transparency over conditions in Jammu and Kashmir after the decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution. Last Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her visit to Delhi, referred to the situation for ordinary Kashmiris as “unsustainable”.

Last month U.S. lawmakers had criticised the government for not allowing American delegations to visit the Valley, and even an MEP invited to visit Srinagar last week had said the government should allow Indian opposition MPs to travel there.

During the interview, Mr. Haavisto spoke about plans for further economic cooperation between India and Finland, especially on developing green technologies to combat climate change, and air pollution challenges, which he said, he had experienced himself during his visit.

Finland holds the EU Council Presidency at present, which is a rotating position, and Mr. Haavisto discussed the resumption of the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA or FTA) between the EU and India with Ms. Sitharaman.

However, he cautioned that the FTA talks could take some time to be restarted, and then to be concluded, and suggested that India’s decision to cancel all its investment treaties in 2014 before renegotiating them had “slowed down” investment in the country from Finnish companies hesitant to take the “risk”.

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