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US Congressmen seek info on Kashmir from Ambassador Shringla

Washington, Oct 26 (IANS) The US Congress has told the Indian envoy Harsh Vardhan Shringla that despite his “update” on the situation in Kashmir, many people have painted “a much different picture”, and asked him to provide answers to several queries, including how many have been detained under the Public Safety Act, on reports of the use of rubber bullets, and whether journalists and members of the US Congress will be allowed free access to the region.

The Congress, in a letter, said that following Shringla’s briefing members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 16 about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, it requested for “more specific information regarding some of the questions raised at that time”.

“As was discussed during the meeting, many of our constituents have painted a much different picture of the situation than what you shared with us,” the letter said.

They asked if 100 per cent of landline service had been restored inside Jammu and Kashmir and when would all mobile phone services be restored, including for prepaid services. “When will full internet access be restored (not just access at kiosks)?” it asked.

“How many people have been detained under the Public Safety Act or other legal provisions since August 5th? Please be as specific as possible. Of those, how many are minors? What is the standard judicial procedure for someone detained under the Public Safety Act?” the letter asked.

It asked for the status of the curfew in Kashmir, and what were the government’s plans to allow residents to return to an uninhibited movement.

It also asked for the reasons that foreign journalists were still not allowed inside Jammu and Kashmir.

On the alleged use of rubber bullets for crowd control, it asked him to confirm “Whether there are any known cases of protesters being blinded by rubber bullets, including the number of children? Are rubber bullets still being used for crowd control? What is the Indian government doing to ensure the rights of peaceful protesters?”

It asked if the Indian government will welcome the visiting members of the US Congress or other foreign officials who wish to visit Jammu and Kashmir?

“We believe true transparency can only be achieved when journalists and Members of the Congress are allowed free access to the region. We encourage India to open Jammu and Kashmir to both domestic and foreign journalists, and other international visitors, in the interest of open media and increased communication.”

The letter was signed by six members, including David N. Cicilline, Dina Titus, Andy Levin and three others.

The letter comes days after Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asia, in her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific earlier this week voiced concern over the situation in Kashmir.

Wells told the panel that while the US supports the objectives of the Indian government that revocation of Article 370 was driven by a desire to increase economic development, reduce corruption, the “Department remains concerned about the situation in the Kashmir Valley, where daily life for the nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since August 5”.

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