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Ashiq Hussain, Hindustan Times
Srinagar, May 18, 2010
The global human rights agency, Amnesty International (AI), has been given access to visit Kashmir first time since armed insurgency erupted in the state in 1989. A two-member team of the organization has landed in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday to assess the human right situation in Kashmir.

"They are in Srinagar. They might have met the rest of the people but they are yet to meet us," confirmed Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Naseem Lankar.

The team including Ramesh Gopala Krishnan and Bikram Jeet Batra were in New Delhi from the past few days to finalize the list of people whom they want to meet. Both the persons are India researchers in the South Asian chapter on AI.

A top police official pleading anonymity told HT that the team was "free to go anywhere they want".

Sources said that the team's focus in the state would be on preventive detention of people by the state particularly under Public Safety Act.

On the first day of their five-day visit, the team met human rights activists and some separatist organizations besides meeting some people who have served jail under public safety act (PSA) in the state.

The team had a thorough meeting with Coalition of Civil Societies (CCS), a human rights group that in the year 2008 claimed to have discovered "hundreds of unidentified graves alleged to contain the victims of conflict killed at the hands of security agencies across Kashmir since 1989". AI had acknowledged the CCS discovery and had even demanded an inquiry into the allegations.

CCS coordinator, Khuram Parvez told HT that the organization was "deactivated" as far as working on Human rights issues in Kashmir particularly from past few years. "We told them that AI has been in a passive mode as far as Kashmir is concerned. Now it is a new beginning," Parvez said.

"The renewed interest of the organization has renewed new hope. Their solidarity with Kashmir is their responsibility. We don't want just statements. Let them come with ground reports about Kashmir," he said.

The team also met the family and supporters of separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah. Shah, whom AI called 'prisoner of conscience' in 1990's, has been arrested in February 2009 under preventive detention law, Public Safety Act and since then he continues to be under arrest. Even though the High Court has quashed six PSA's against Shah, the government has slapped seventh on him in April.

Government has charge Shah of "fomenting trouble in the valley and acting at the behest of Inter Services Intelligence Agency for advocating the secessionist ideology".

The team is also believed to meet mainstream as well as other separatist organizations.

State's Law minister, Ali Mohammad Sagar, said that government has no hesitation to meet the team.

However hard-line separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has been a vociferous voice against the alleged human rights abuses at the hands of security forces in Kashmir, seems unimpressed. "Amnesty international should have sent non partisan individuals not those with Indian nationality. Where ever an Indian works be it in AI, Central bureau of investigation, Intelligence Bureau or for that matter in United Nations (UN), they first keep in view their national interest," Geelani said.

The hard line leader said that he will meet the team and put forth his views. "Let us see what report they will present," Geelani said.