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India protests special China visas

India has lodged a formal protest with Beijing over a new practice of issuing special Chinese visas for residents of Kashmir, which is viewed by China as disputed territory.

delhi Updated: Oct 02, 2009 16:36 IST

India has lodged a formal protest with Beijing over a new practice of issuing special Chinese visas for residents of Kashmir, which is viewed by China as disputed territory.

"We have conveyed our well-justified concern to the Chinese government," India's foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said on Friday.

"It is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on the grounds of domicile or ethnicity," Prakash said.

For the past several months, Kashmiris applying to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi have received visas issued on loose sheets of paper and stapled -- rather than stamped -- into their passports.

The practice has resulted in some being prevented from boarding their flights by Indian immigration officials on the grounds that the visas are not valid.

"They said the stapled visa was not acceptable to India," said Shuja Altaf, a Kashmiri businessman who tried to travel to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou last month with a colleague.

"Both of us missed the flight," Altaf told reporters in the Kashmiri summer capital Srinagar.

China has offered no explanation for the special visas, which some Indian officials view as an example of gratuitous trouble-making.

"From time to time, China indulges in mischief," said Saifuddin Soz, a senior Kashmiri leader from India's ruling Congress party.

Kashmir has been the subject of a bitter territorial dispute between India and Pakistan for decades. The region is currently divided between the South Asian rivals by a Line of Control and has been the trigger for two full-scale wars.

China is also a party to the dispute in that it lays claim to a slice of Indian Kashmir, while India says China is illegally holding part of its territory.

The two countries fought a brief but bloody war over their Himalayan border in 1962 and demarcation disputes have proved a thorn in the side of bilateral relations ever since.

One Kashmiri student, who declined to be named, complained that the visa spat had prevented him taking up an admission place at Shanghai University.

"If China is issuing special visa to Kashmiris, it is not our fault. We are being made scapegoats in a diplomatic row between India and China," he said.