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UN chief urges India, Pak to defuse tensions

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UNHR chief condemns Pulwama attack; expresses concern at acts of violence against Kashmiri people in different parts of India

United Nations, Feb 20: UN chief Antonio Guterres has called on India and Pakistan to exercise "maximum restraint" and take "immediate steps” to de-escalate tensions following the Pulwama suicide attack, reiterating that his good offices are available if asked by both sides.

The already sour relations between India and Pakistan have worsened over the past week as New Delhi blamed Islamabad for the Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed in which 49 CRPF personnel were killed. Both countries have called back their envoys for "consultations."

“The Secretary General stresses the importance for both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps for de-escalation, and his good offices are always available should both sides ask,” the UN Secretary General's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters here Tuesday at the daily press briefing.

Dujarric was asked about a meeting Pakistan's Permanent Mission to the UN has sought with the Secretary General and also about Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi saying the UN must step in to defuse tensions between the two nations.

"...looking at the situation in general between India and Pakistan, we're deeply concerned at the increase in tensions between the two countries in the wake of the attack on Indian security personnel on 14 February in Pulwama," Dujrraic said.

He said Pakistan's mission at the UN requested for the meeting with the Secretary General.

"We've seen press reports of a letter having been delivered to the UN. As far as we've ascertained, none has been received as of this very minute," he added.

In a separate issue, Dujjaric said that in response to questions on a recent incident involving the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, known as UNMOGIP, the observer group reported on February 16 that a UN vehicle in the city of Jammu was surrounded by a group of protesters who placed a Pakistan flag in front of the vehicle.

“The vehicle attempted to bypass the flag but was unable to do so. The Mission has informed both Indian and Pakistani authorities of this regrettable and unavoidable circumstances of the incident. The Mission also requested India to provide additional escorts and will be conducting an investigation,” he said.

India maintains that UNMOGIP has outlived its utility and is irrelevant after the Simla Agreement and the consequent establishment of the Line of Control.

Last week, Guterres had "strongly" condemned the militant attack against security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district, calling for those behind the attack to be brought to justice.

"We strongly condemn today's attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district and express our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to the Government and people of India," Dujarric had said at the daily press briefing last Thursday.

Meanwhile, the top United Nations human rights official has strongly condemned last week's suicide bomb attack against Indian forces in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir calling on authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet is also saddened by the further loss of life from subsequent gun-battles in the same area Monday, the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Rupert Colville said in Geneva Tuesday.

"The High Commissioner strongly condemns the suicide bomb attack against Indian security forces in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February and calls on authorities to bring those responsible to justice," Colville said.

A suicide bomber from the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group drove his explosives-laden vehicle into a CRPF bus last week, killing 49 personnel and critically wounding others.

In a major encounter in Pulwama's Pinglana area Monday, two Jaish-e-Mohammed militants, including a Pakistani commander of the group being investigated for his role in the February 14 attack, and an Army major were among the seven people killed.

The gun battle took place in Pinglana area, about 12 km from the spot of last week's suicide attack. The encounter also claimed the lives of three other Army personnel, officials said. The slain militants were identified as Kamran, a Pakistani national and top commander of the Jaish, and Hilal Ahmad, a local recruited by the militant group, they said.

The UN Human Rights chief expressed hope that escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours "will not add further to the insecurity in the region".

In the wake of the Pulwama attack, Colville said the High Commissioner is also "concerned" by reports from India that "some elements" are using the attack as "justification for threats and potential acts of violence" targeting Kashmiri people living in different parts of India.

In New Delhi, India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday directed officials to ensure protection of innocent Kashmiris living in different parts of the country.

"We acknowledge actions taken by the Indian authorities to tackle these incidents and we hope that the Government will continue to take steps to protect people from all forms of harm that may be directed at them on account of their ethnicity or identity," Colville said.

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