Germany Lifts Bar On Tourists To Kashmir25 July 2011
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Srinagar: Germany today “revised” an advisory that had cautioned against trips to Kashmir, becoming the first European country since 1995 to allow its nationals to visit the Valley. The new advisory gives an overview of security and says the situation has calmed down enough for foreigners not to be “direct targets of clashes”. “The travel advisory issued by the federal foreign office for German nationals travelling to the region has been revised,” Jens Urban, a spokesperson for the German embassy, said. The decision follows a visit to Srinagar last month by German ambassador Thomas Matussek, who promised to review the over 15-year-old advisory. The revised German advisory asks tourists to travel with trained guides and avoid border areas. Kashmir, dubbed “Paradise on Earth” by Mughal emperor Jehangir, was a favourite with western tourists before the outbreak of militancy in 1990. Almost 25 per cent of such visitors were German. Most European countries, including the UK and France, and later the US issued advisories after six foreign tourists were abducted by al Faran, believed to be a front for the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, in 1995. One of them, Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro, was beheaded. Four others - American Donald Hutchings, Britons Paul Wells and Keith Mangan, and German Dirk Hasart - were never traced. A second American escaped. The abductors had demanded the release of several militants, including Masood Azhar who was eventually released in 1999 in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked flight IC 814. Nawang Ringzin Jora, the tourism minister in the Omar Abdullah government, said the German decision was a “great” move and hoped other European nations would follow suit. The Valley has been flush with tourists this summer after three years of agitation. Travel operators are hoping that the record of 7.22 lakh tourists (excluding Amarnath pilgrims) set in 1989 will be broken this year.