NEW DELHI (AP) — India's new Hindu nationalist government has asked a U.N. body overseeing military activity in divided Kashmir to vacate a government bungalow in the heart of the nation's capital that it has used rent-free for 40 years.
India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in its entirety, and India discourages any intervention or criticism in the dispute. The two countries fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir.
A U.N. official confirmed that the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan was asked to vacate the bungalow.
"No reason was given. We were asked to vacate the bungalow," Maj. Nicholas Diaz said Friday at the bungalow, which is around the corner from India's Supreme Court in a coveted part of central Delhi.
A foreign ministry spokesman said the move was in line with efforts to rationalize the U.N. body's presence in India.
The decision was "consistent with India's long-standing view that UNMOGIP has outlived its relevance," said Syed Akbaruddin, external affairs ministry spokesman.
India maintains that the U.N. agency had no role to play after India and Pakistan signed a landmark agreement in 1972 on finding a bilateral solution to their dispute over Kashmir.
Diaz said a U.N. Security Council resolution calls for the body to monitor and observe the border and report violations of a cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan.
India has never been comfortable with the presence of the U.N. body overseeing its borders and has often said that no third party can have a role in resolving the dispute over Kashmir.
"We have at best tolerated them because this is one of those byproducts of history," said Hardeep Singh Puri, a former permanent representative of India to the U.N.
"This was an issue of rationalizing. I don't know who had given them this largesse of free accommodation. They were not even paying normal rent for it, let alone market rent," he said.
The U.N. group also has an office in Srinagar, the main city in India's portion of Kashmir, which would continue as it is often the venue for protests by Kashmir separatist groups and human rights activists, officials said.
In Srinagar, nearly 100 activists of the pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front group protested Friday against the government's decision ordering the U.N. agency to vacate the building.
The protesters chanted slogans such as "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom," as they tried to march to Srinagar's the city center. They were later dispersed by police.
Diaz said the U.N. observer group would continue its operations in keeping with its original mandate and has started looking for new office space to rent.
Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said asking the U.N. observers to move out was "inconsequential" with regard to Kashmir's status.
"As long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved, the U.N. Security Council mandate remains. These measures are inconsequential and they do not have any impact on the legal status of the dispute," Aslam told reporters in Islamabad.
The group also has offices in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, the main city in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir.
Relations between India and Pakistan were frozen after an attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people. A mild thaw since then has helped trade and people-to-people links, but the Kashmir dispute is far from resolution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a tough line in his election campaign on Pakistan's role in sponsoring terror attacks in India. He softened his stand somewhat and invited Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to India for his inaugural.