France watching Kashmir rights, Macron tells Modi

Hazel WARD
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France will be keeping an eye on rights issues in divided Kashmir, President Emmanuel Macron told India's Narendra Modi

France's Emmanuel Macron had a "frank" exchange with India's Narendra Modi about tensions in divided Kashmir on Thursday, telling him Paris would remain attentive to the rights of people living both sides of the ceasefire line.

As tensions soared in the flashpoint region, the French president said he would also have a similar exchange with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in the coming days.

His remarks came after talks with the Indian premier at the chateau in Chantilly, just north of Paris.

On August 5, Modi's Hindu nationalist government scrapped the autonomy of Indian-controlled Kashmir, a divided Muslim-majority region that has enjoyed special status in the Indian constitution since the country's independence from Britain in 1947.

The move enraged many Kashmiris and has sparked tensions with Pakistan, which also claims the region, raising growing international concern over a flare-up in violence between the two nuclear-armed powers.

Macron said he told Modi it was the responsibility of both India and Pakistan "to avoid any deterioration on the ground which could lead to an escalation", noting the importance of resolving their differences bilaterally.

And he said France would "remain attentive to ensure the interests and rights of the civilian populations are properly taken into account in the territories on both sides of the (Kashmir) ceasefire line".

French officials had earlier said they would push Modi to explain how he saw things playing out in the region in the coming days and weeks.

Since August 5, the Indian authorities have imposed a communications blackout and heavy restrictions on movement in the parts of Kashmir it controls, arresting at least 4,000 people and raising growing alarm about rights violations.

- 'No letup on cross-border terror' -

Earlier on Thursday, UN rights experts said they were concerned about "massive numbers" of troops brought in to enforce restrictions and about the apparent rise in arrests of political figures, journalists, human rights activists and protesters.

India resents any outside interference in Kashmir and its Western allies have historically avoided taking public positions on the dispute, despite allegations of human rights abuses there.

Speaking in Hindi, Modi made no direct remarks on Kashmir but pledged to continue the fight against "radicalisation", saying India had gained France's "valuable support in fighting cross-border terrorism".

He hailed defence cooperation as an "important pillar" of the relationship with France, saying India would take its first delivery of French fighter jets next month.

Three years ago, India signed a multi-billion dollar deal to purchase 36 Rafale jets from France in an agreement which was settled during Modi's first visit to Paris in 2015.

The meeting comes just two days before Macron hosts world leaders at this weekend's Group of Seven (G7) summit in the French resort of Biarritz, among them Donald Trump, Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's new prime minister Boris Johnson.

Modi will also attend the three-day summit, which begins on Saturday.