Srinagar (AFP) Nov 21, 2009
The leader of Indian Kashmir's moderate separatists said on Saturday that China has a stake in peace in restive Kashmir as part of the disputed Himalayan region is under Beijing's control.
The statement came amid rising Sino-Indian tensions over a Chinese embassy policy of issuing different visas to Indian Kashmir residents and the disputed Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh.
"I believe China is not a party to the Kashmir conflict but it has stakes as far as peace in the region is concerned," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads moderate separatists, said in a statement.
Kashmiri separatists have rarely mentioned China's role in resolving the dispute over Kashmir that is mainly divided between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. China holds a small area of Kashmir.
"China has a direct link with Kashmir as certain parts of Kashmir, including Aksai Chin, are under its control," said Farooq, adding he would soon visit China on an invitation from a non-governmental organisation.
Pakistan, which holds Kashmir's northern tip, has fought two of its wars with India over the territory since the subcontinent's independence from British rule in 1947.
Farooq, who is chief priest at Kashmir's main mosque, also welcomed a joint statement earlier in the week by US President Barak Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, which voiced support for better India-Pakistan relations.
"Hurriyat welcomes the approach adopted by China and America jointly in terms of addressing the issue of Kashmir in South Asia," he said.
India has bristled at the US-Chinese statement, saying it requires no outside help to improve relations with Pakistan.
Indian-administered Kashmir is in the grip of an Islamic insurgency which has claimed more than 47,000 lives by official count since the start of the revolt in the region in 1989.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, views Kashmir as a disputed region.
For the past few months, marking a new irritant in Sino-Indian ties, residents of Indian Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh applying to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi have received different visas from Indians.
India said it has registered its "well-justified concern" over the practice which has resulted in some travellers being prevented from boarding their flights by Indian immigration officials on the grounds that the visas are not valid.
The visas have been issued on loose sheets of paper and stapled -- rather than stamped -- into their passports.
On Friday, an Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman declared the government had no objection to Farooq visiting China.
"We have never prevented Kashmiri leaders from travelling abroad," Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper.
But she made it clear that stapled visas on passports were not acceptable to the government, the newspaper reported.
The government "does not subscribe to this approach which discriminates on the basis of domicile and ethnicity", she said.
Farooq has been invited by a Chinese Muslim group to deliver a lecture in Beijing.
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