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MEA Official Spokesperson briefing on the airlines incident in Netherlands

New Delhi
August 25, 2006

Official Spokesperson: Good evening. Let me start by giving an update on the story that everybody is following at the moment which is the return of the people who were detained in Netherlands. Most of you have already got an update as the Minister has already spoken to a few channels but the position is that the Dutch Ambassador in Delhi was summoned to the Foreign Office this afternoon by Secretary(West) Smt. Shashi Tripathi. At this meeting, India lodged a strong protest at the way this entire incident has been handled. The Dutch Ambassador was informed that we took this matter of mishandling very seriously and that it was not in conformity with the friendly relations that exist between Netherlands and India. For his part, the Dutch Ambassador informed the Secretary that he would find out all the details from his Headquarters and would revert. The rest of the details of this I do not think I need to get into. I think you already have them. If you have any specific questions on this let me take those and then we can move on to other issues.

Question: When are they returning back? 
Official Spokesperson: I understand that they would be returning tonight. 

Question: When they return back tonight will they be questioned on arrival? 
Official Spokesperson: I do not think you can say they would be questioned. But naturally, the incident is one in which it is most likely that they would be debriefed. They have already met our Charge d’Affairs at The Hague yesterday. I must tell you that she had a two-hour session with them after she was given consular access during which she listened to everything and gave them her reassurance on their safe return and that she would convey the fact that they were being released to their families. So, they have already in that sense met the Charge d’Affairs but it is quite likely that when they do come back we would like to get all the details from them. 

Question: What are the specific things that the Indian government is upset about? 
Official Spokesperson: Well, I don’t want to get into details because as we said it would be good that we have there full version after their arrival. But, yes the handling of the incident which would naturally include also the manner of their treatment during their detention. 

Question: What did they reveal during consular access? 
Official Spokesperson: Let’s wait for all that. The fact is that it took a tremendous amount of persuasion on behalf of our Embassy to get to the point that we could get consular access and then, thereafter, our efforts were focused on getting this unfortunate and regrettable incident to a quick close so that the people could come home safely. The fact that this has happened without any charges being recorded is evidence of the coordination between Indian agencies at headquarters and our Mission there. 

Question: Have any reasons been cited so far for their detention? 
Official Spokesperson: From what I have, no evidence has been found of any reason for this detention. So there are no charges. 

Question: Has any advice been given by the Government to air travelers so that such a thing does not happen again? 
Official Spokesperson: There are standard security instructions and airline instructions. I am, at least, not aware of the Indian government having issued any specific instructions today. 

Question: Since a private airline was involved, does the Government propose to raise this issue with the airline? 
Official Spokesperson: At the moment, this has been raised with the Dutch government. I also understand that as part of the conversation (between Secretary and Ambassador) it was mentioned that such action can lead to a presumption of profiling. The Dutch Ambassador responded by saying that he himself belonged to a multi-ethnic country and certainly that was not their intention. 

Question: You mentioned that tremendous persuasion was required to get consular access. Can you be more specific on that? 
Official Spokesperson: Once this matter came up then naturally our Mission was concerned that are these people Indians or not. Consular access is only granted to the diplomats of the country to which the person belongs. So I do understand that because of their desire to respect privacy and security till last evening, at least, the Dutch had not confirmed the nationality of these people. Obviously, they were doing all the checks that were necessary to come to a firm conclusion about the nationality and consular access could only be provided after that. 

Question: There is a larger question about racial discrimination….
Official Spokesperson: I think this is neither the place nor the time to discuss these very large issues. Let us hope these developments are not reflective of larger issues. The incident is of a nature that has been taken cognizance of and has been taken up strongly with the Dutch government. 

Question: Was there an apology or any kind of reaction (from the Dutch Ambassador)? 
Official Spokesperson: From what debriefing that I have is that he said he would be conveying this. There was no intention of racial profiling and that he would come back to us with a detailed report. However, I see on your channels that there is some mention of regrets, so I do not know where that is coming from. 

Question: There are reports that the people detained got improper treatment….
Official Spokesperson: There was treatment which was objectionable. Let me keep it at that. You will get a very clear idea once they are back themselves. Naturally, they will tell the officials and it is quite likely they will tell the Press. 

Question: Are we demanding an apology? 
Official Spokesperson: I have just told you that we have lodged a strong protest. We have said that we are shocked at the incident. We have said that this is not in keeping with the friendly relations. I think that the response that is required is self-evident. 

Question: Any complaints against the airlines or the air marshals? 
Official Spokesperson: We have protested to the Dutch government. Now it is up to them to come back to us with a detailed report or a detailed explanation. 

Question: There were some reports whether they would charging them with flight disruption…
Official Spokesperson: As I know there is no evidence that the men were to commit any act of violence on board the flight. 

Question: Any particular reason that we are not raising (this issue) with the airlines? 
Official Spokesperson: No, I think that this thing has to be understood step-by-step. This was an airplane that took off from Netherlands and went back to Netherlands. More important is the detention of the people by the Dutch authorities that we are objecting to. 

Question: Was there anything about the Dutch government misinforming us on the identity? 
Official Spokesperson: Well, ultimately the identities were established and were conveyed. Some toing and froing before that happened when there was some lack of clarity on the exact identity and possibly, that was the reason of delay in consular access. 

Thank you.