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We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents as well as Internet restrictions, says Alice Wells. PHOTO: FILE

A top aide of US President Donald Trump has expressed serious concerns over the continuing lockdown in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) and illegal detention of Kashmiri leaders as well as residents following the first ‘guided’ trip of foreign envoys to the disputed region.

Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, made a statement three days after Indian authorities took foreign diplomats from 15 countries, including US, on a two-day visit to the Himalayan valley for the first time since New Delhi stripped IOK of its semi-autonomous status in a rushed presidential decree on August 5 last year.

Some European nations, including others countries, declined to visit the occupied territory after being refused permission to travel independently.

While reacting on the Indian clampdown in the valley, the senior US diplomat wrote on the official Twitter handle late Saturday: “Closely following @USAmbIndia & other foreign diplomats’ recent trip to [Occupied] Jammu & Kashmir. Important step. We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents, and Internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy.”

Access to Occupied Kashmir for foreign observers, including diplomats, rights groups and journalists, is tightly controlled.

Foreign envoys are rarely granted permission to travel outside of  IOK main city of Srinagar. Foreign journalists have not been granted permission to visit since August last year.

The disputed valley has been under severe restrictions – including one of the world’s longest internet shutdowns – after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government revoked decades-old laws granting IOK autonomy and statehood, leading to widespread unrest.

Kashmiris see the move as an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindu settlers.

Pakistan had strongly condemned the move and is “exercising all possible options to counter the illegal steps” taken by India.