EU treats J&K as any other part of India: Ambassador
18 June 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Daily Excelsior Correspondent
Srinagar: Asserting that European Union treated Jammu and Kashmir as any other part of India, EU Ambassador to New Delhi Francisco Da Camara Gomes today said the grouping supported the efforts between India and Pakistan to normalise relations. 'I donít 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,' Gomes said in response to a pointed question at a press conference after India-European Union roundtable, which is being held here for the first time. The Ambassador said 'ofcourse there is a problem, which is being addressed by the authorities of your country. We support the efforts to normalise relations with the neighbour next door.' Gomes was, however, quick to add that European Union did not intend to interfere into internal affairs of the country. 'We do not want to interfere in the internal matters of any country,' he said. He refused to answer when pressed further if EU recognised Jammu and Kashmir as integral part of India, saying 'I am here as an observer for India-European Union roundtable. I am not even a member of the roundtable.' Centreís interlocutor on Kashmir N N Vohra said this was a roundtable about civil socities, trade and tourism. Our special correspondent adds The 3-day conference began here on Thursday. Co-operation for encouraging tourism between India and EU, besides development of trade and the role of civil society in promotion of trade and tourism, are the key items on the agenda of the meeting. Co-chairmen, Mr Briesch and N N Vohra (who also happens to be Government of Indiaís interlocutor in the current process of talks with the separatist leadership) said at the news conference that no subject was a 'taboo' for the meeting. They, however, sought to clarify that the Round Table was 'representing the civil societies in India and the EU countries and that it was not a government body to make political decisions. Mr Briesch said that the recommendations of the Srinagar meeting would be submitted to the European Commission and the European Parliament to enrich the proposals of the India-EU for co-operation in trade and tourism. When mediapersons desired to know whether the meeting had discussed the advisories of several European countries, asking their citizens not to visit Kashmir, Mr Briesch said that the conference was taking 'a broader view' of the subject. He said that the meeting had discussed trade and tourism thoroughly and a joint statement would be issued at its conclusion on Saturday. 'Our presence (in Kashmir) is a very strong statement in itself', Mr Briesch said while glossing over the issue of the negative travel advisories. The question whether the EU treated Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India, created a lot of heat at the news conference. A senior journalist from Jammu, who initiated the subject, pointed out to Messers Briesch and Vohra that such an international conference was being held in Kashmir for the first time. 'This is not the purpose of our debate. We are not political decision-makers. We are representatives of the civil society in the EU', Mr Briesh said. He added that the EU was supportive of the Indian initiative in Kashmir in which his Round Table colleague, N N Vohra, was playing a significant role. Mr Briesch described Vohra as an 'eminent political figure' and appreciated his 'working for normality'. 'Itís self-revealing', he added in his diplomatic language. When journalists pressed for a 'clear answer', Mr Briesch clarified that the EU Round Table had no business to interfere in the 'internal matters' of India. Thereafter, the same question was directed to EUís Ambassador in India, Mr Francisco Da Camara Gomes. He argued that he was present at the news conference and at the Round Table meeting 'as an observer' and clarified that he was not a member competent to answer such questions. 'Iím not speaking on behalf of the EU Governments. Here Iím just a representative of the EU civil society', Mr Gomes said. As some of the journalists pressed the ticklish query repeatedly and desired the EU Ambassador to comment what was the EU nationsí stand on Kashmir, he refused to be categorical. 'I had heard that the people here are very hospitable. But, I regret to find that we are not welcome', remarked a visibly upset Mr Gomes. India-EU Round Table was set up at the initiative of the former Indian Minister of External Affairs, Mr Jaswant Singh, and the European Commissionís External Relations Commissioner Mr Chris Patten. It was formally launched at New Delhi in January 2001. While as Mr Vohra is the Indian Co-chairman, Mr Briesch (President of the EESC) is the Co-Chairman from the EU. With members from diverse backgrounds like business, industry, trade union, economic and social sectors, the Round Table meets biannually, alternatively in India and the EU.