Since their arrival on Thursday, the visitors have been participating in a round-table discussion in the state capital, Srinagar, where they have met with a group of 17 Indian officials besides lawmakers, members of civil-society groups, and representatives of local trade organisations.

 

A veteran bureaucrat, NN Vohra, is leading the Indian delegation.

 

The sessions are not open to the media. Insiders said the EU delegation was mainly interested in economic issues.

 

Roger Briesch, co-chairman of the roundtable, the seventh held so far, said: "The Indo-EU conference is aimed at strengthening trade and tourism ties between India and European Union."

 

He added the conference is also exploring ways to "improve people-to-people contact".

 

Peace process backed

Asked if the choice of Srinagar as the conference's venue did not amount to EU endorsement of India's claim over the disputed province, EU Ambassador to India Francisco Da Camara Gomes said: "I don't know why this question is being raised here. We have been working with India and Kashmir for a long time. We have treated Kashmir as any other part of the country. 

The EU team visited Pakistan-
administered Kashmir last year

He added: "Of course, there is a problem, which is being addressed by the authorities of your country [India].

"We support the efforts to normalise relations with the neighbour next door," Gomes said, referring to the ongoing talks between India and Pakistan covering multiple issues including Kashmir.

Gomes refused to say whether the EU recognised Kashmir as an integral part of India.

The EU delegation on Friday called on the state's chief minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who assured the visitors they were free to meet anybody - in keeping with his government policy of "transparency".

Focus of attention

The team's visit comes close on the heels of the commencement of business by the newly elected House of European Parliament (EP).

 

"The dispute over Kashmir will remain the focus of attention of the newly elected European parliament"

EU delegation official

"The dispute over Kashmir will remain the focus of attention of the newly elected European parliament as it intends to compile an exhaustive report on the issue after the parliamentary delegation completes its visit," an official accompanying the EU team said. 

 

He said the delegation was meeting "people representing a wide spectrum of political and public opinion to listen to their views".

 

In December 2003 a seven-member delegation of the European parliament's committee on foreign affairs, human rights, common security and defence policy led by former EP rapporteur for Pakistan, John Walls Cushnahan, visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir. 

 

It is learned that, based on the European parliamentarians' visits to both sides of the Line of Control, a report for the consideration by the EP's committee would be issued and the committee would then decide what further steps should be taken. 

 

Rebels killed

 

Meanwhile, Indian troops on Saturday killed five armed fighters hours after they reportedly infiltrated into Kashmir valley from the Pakistan-administered side of the region.


Snow melts in summer, allowing
for easy cross-border infiltration

A senior official of India's Border Security Force said fighters were once again sneaking into the Indian side although in fewer numbers.

 

The melting of snow in the mountains with the onset of summer had opened up the passes enabling infiltration, said an Indian official K Srinivasan.

 

The latest infiltration attempt was made from the Macheal sector deep inside Kupwara district bordering Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

 

"They were challenged and asked to surrender, but instead of obeying the order they opened fire," an Indian spokesperson said, adding that five of the fighters were killed.