Kashmir cease-fire signals Delhi’s desire for peace, say experts

An Indian police officer fires a tear gas shell towards demonstrators, during a protest against the recent killings in Kashmir. (REUTERS/Danish Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Kashmir cease-fire signals Delhi’s desire for peace, say experts

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced on Wednesday that it would suspend all operations against rebels in the disputed Kashmir state
  • Kashmir has been gripped by frequent bouts of violence for the past several months and more than 130 people have been killed in the state this year

NEW DELHI: India’s decision to suspend operations against militants in Kashmir during the holy month of Ramadan is a good move and one that sends a message that the government is willing to negotiate peace, experts said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced on Wednesday that it would suspend all operations against rebels in the disputed Kashmir state with two exceptions — if Indian security forces were attacked or if innocent lives were in danger.
“The decision was taken to help peace-loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment,” the official handle of the office of the home minister tweeted on Wednesday.
Kashmir has been at the heart of a dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, both of which claim it. It has been gripped by frequent bouts of violence for the past several months and more than 130 people have been killed in the state this year, according to media reports.
At least 120 local men have joined the militancy this year — up from 16 in 2013, said Happymon Jacob, associate professor of disarmament studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
“The announcement is a good one because it tells you this is the season of Ramadan and fasting and (people) should try not to get into such conflicts,” Jacob said. “Most of the militants in Jammu and Kashmir are local boys and this decision is a way of telling the people in Kashmir that we are willing to negotiate, we are willing to talk,” Jacob said.
Soon after the federal government’s announcement, however, militants attacked an army patrol party in Shopian in south Kashmir, according to local reports. It was not clear if there were any casualties.
The decision came a week after all parties in the state, led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, recommended it to the government. Her party, the PDP, rules the state in an alliance with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. New Delhi agreed with Mufti’s suggestion despite resistance from its state leadership in Kashmir. At the time a BJP spokesman told local media that such a move would “demoralize security forces.”
Mufti “wholeheartedly” welcomed the move and thanked the prime minister and the home minister “for their personal intervention.” In a tweet, she said: “The month of Ramadan is a harbinger of peace & such a decision will go a long way in creating a peaceful & amicable environment for a sustained dialogue.”
As a result of the rise in militancy as well as heightened social unrest, the BJP-PDP alliance has lost all support in the state, Jacob said. By pushing for a cease-fire, it is a way for the PDP, for Mufti, to reclaim some lost territory, he said.
“More importantly, this cease-fire offer could also be a realization in Delhi to have some stability both externally (on the border with Pakistan) and internally going into 2019 national elections,” he said.
India and Pakistan have accused each other’s security forces of harassing their diplomats for several months this year. That ongoing tension has recently, and suddenly, died down, Jacob said, adding that the Indian government could be trying to calm the situation.
The last time that India offered a cease-fire to militants was in 2000. At that time, too, the government in New Delhi was led by the BJP. That cease-fire soon fell apart due to militant attacks.


Hundreds of South Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

Updated 55 min 9 sec ago
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Hundreds of South Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the latest round of reunions during their first summit in April
  • The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s

SEOUL, South Korea: About 200 South Koreans and their family members prepared to cross into North Korea on Monday for heart-wrenching meetings with relatives most haven’t seen since they were separated by the turmoil of the Korean War.
The weeklong event at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States.
The temporary reunions are highly emotional because most of those taking part are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die. Most of these families were driven apart during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still in a technical state of war.
Buses carrying the elderly South Koreans attending this week’s reunions arrived at a border immigration office Monday morning. Red Cross workers wearing yellow vests waved at them. Some were in wheelchairs and others were aided by workers as they got off the buses and moved to the South Korean immigration office in the eastern border town of Goseong. After undergoing immigration checks, they were to cross the border by buses and travel to Diamond Mountain.
Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived program from 2005 to 2007. No one has had a second chance to see their relatives.
According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, 197 separated South Koreans and their family members will take part in the first round of reunions that run from Monday to Wednesday. Another 337 South Koreans will participate in a second round of reunions from Friday to Sunday.
South Korea will also send dozens of medical and emergency staff to Diamond Mountain to prepare for potential health problems considering the large number of elderly participants.
Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s.
Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he’d faced his older brother in battle.
After graduating from a Seoul university, Park’s brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army.
Park fought for the South as a student soldier and was among the allied troops who took over Wonsan in October 1950. The US-led forces advanced farther north in the following weeks before being driven back by a mass of Chinese forces after Beijing intervened in the conflict.
Park learned that his brother died in 1984. At Diamond Mountain, he will meet his North Korean nephew and niece, who are 74 and 69, respectively.
“I want to ask them what his dying wish was and what he said about me,” Park said in a telephone interview last week. “I wonder whether there’s a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan.”
During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated a potential of striking the continental United States.
North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months. Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a son of North Korean war refugees, agreed to resume the reunions during the first of their two summits this year in April.
South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South. The ministry estimates there are currently about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.
But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.
The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to participate in reunions have died, according to the Seoul ministry.
Analysts say North Korea sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip with the South, and doesn’t want them expanded because they give its people better awareness of the outside world. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.