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Thousands of Kashmiri people on the call of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on Sunday marched towards the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border between Pakistan and India - but were stopped by theauthorities by placing containers, barbed wires, electricity poles and mounds of earth on the road.

The demonstrators of "Freedom March", mostly youngsters, resumed their march from Garhi Dupatta where they had reached from Muzaffarabad. They were moving on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Highway, but the authorities blocked the road by putting containers and barbed wires at Jiskool, which is almost 6-8 kilometres from the LoC.

Some of the protestors tried to remove the barbed wires but were stopped by police. Others tried to circumvent the blockage by climbing the steep mountains but could not do so as heavy contingent of police was deployed to foil any such attempt.

A local JKLF leader Rafiq Dar told the media that they would try to convince the authorities to let them go up to Chakothi - a village about 3 kilometres from the LoC. "I hope they will allow us carry on our peaceful march to the town of Chakothi. Our march is peaceful and we do not want any kind of confrontation," he said.

Dar said UN Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan had also contacted them. He said the UN was urged to persuade India and Pakistan to not use force against peaceful protestors. Dubbed as the 'freedom march', the organisers have announced to cross the LoC to defy the line dividing Kashmir and show support for the people of Kashmir.

The protestors were chanting mostly anti-India slogans and most of their banners carried anti-India messages. However, when they reached Jiskool on Sunday, the local administration blocked the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar highway to stop them from moving ahead.

Speaking on the matter, JKLF Spokesperson Muhammad Rafiq Dar said they were holding a peaceful demonstration to express solidarity with innocent Kashmiri peopole who are suffering at the hands of barbaric Indian forces.

"We want to draw the attention of the international community towards the urgent need of an immediate and peaceful settlement to the longstanding Kashmir dispute," he said, adding that they did not intend to have any kind of confrontation with the authorities because any violent situation would only serve India's interests. "We have to save our energies for confrontation with India," he added.

He also urged the authorities to remove the blockades so that the marchers could reach their destination - Chakothi, a village 3 kilometres before. He said that by sunset, when the crowd would be thinned out, they would stage a sit-in half a kilometre before the containers. "We will hold consultations for our future course of action," he added.

Meanwhile, Divisional Commissioner Chaudhry Imtiaz, Deputy Inspector General Police Sardar Ilyas Khan, Jhelum Valley Deputy Commissioner Imran Shaheen and Superintendent Police Arshad Naqvi were present on the other side of the containers. They had also invited the leaders of the march for talks.

Speaking to a local news outlet, DC Imtiaz said that they had informed the organisers of the march about a 'serious threat' of Indian shelling because the Indian forces would not only target the marchers but would harm the civilian population as well.

He said that they could not allow the marchers to go beyond Jiskool because there is a firing range beyond this point. "Our primary responsibility is to protect the lives of the marchers," he added. The participants of the march started their journey from Garhi Dupatta, a small town in Muzaffarabad, on Saturday morning and were shortly joined by another caravan from Bagh. Nearly two hours later, they reached Hattian Bala where they were received a warm welcome from the locals.-NNI

Meanwhile, a high level US Congressional delegation comprising Senators Chris Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan along with their staffers and US CdA Amb Paul Jones visited Muzaffarabad on Sunday. The purpose of the visit was to see the ground situation and gauge public sentiment following the 5 August illegal Indian actions in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

A detailed briefing on the current situation on LoC was given by Major General Amer. The delegation also called on the President Sardar Masood Khan and Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The Leadership of Azad Kashmir thanked the two Senators for the visit and appreciated their support for the just cause of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. While offering them to see first hand the vibrant and thriving Kashmiri community in Azad Kashmir, the US delegation was apprised of the historical background of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute and the deteriorating situation in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir in wake of prolonged curfew and suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms particularly since 5 August.

The leadership of Azad Jammu and Kashmir expressed the hope that delegation's visit to AJK would help them have first hand information, understanding the prevailing humanitarian crisis in IoK and explaining the ground situation to their colleagues on the Capitol Hill and in the Administration upon return to the United States. It was noted that the Indian Government's policy of denial to allow neutral observers to visit the occupied Jammu and Kashmir had exposed the specious India's "all is well "propaganda.

President Masood Khan and Prime Minister Farooq Haider both urged the US Senators to play their role in saving the people of IoK from India's repressive brutal measures and pressing India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNSC resolutions. Among other things, they also shared the vision and priorities of AJK Government, which were focused on governance, rule of law and development.

The US Senators said that they shared the human rights concerns and would continue to urge India to lift the curfew and release all prisoners as a first step. They also expressed their resolve to remain engaged for the resolution of the dispute.-PR

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