India and Bangladesh bury border dispute

Raft of agreements, including one settling long running border disputes, reached during Indian PM's visit to Dhaka.

    Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh is the first by an Indian prime minsiter in 12 years [Reuters]

    India and Bangladesh have signed a raft of agreements during a visit to Dhaka by Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, including one to resolve long-running border disputes.

    The South Asian neighbours concluded a land boundary agreement on Tuesday to demarcate their 4,000km shared border and sort out 162 "enclaves" - small pockets of one country's territory surrounded by the other.

    "Both of our countries have now demarcated the entire land boundary and have resolved the status of enclaves," Singh said at a ceremony with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, in Dhaka.

    More than 50,000 people live in the enclaves, cut off from their respective governments and without access to many basic services.

    The enclaves date back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes, and they survived the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 after British rule and Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.

    India and Bangladesh discuss 'pasha' enclaves

    Hasina said the deal was a "historic understanding" which would resolve the countries' lingering border issues.

    "For neighbours, borders cannot have walls, but windows for collaboration and exchange. This is why relations with our neighbours require special focus," she said.

    However, breakthroughs on key disputes, including the sharing of water from rivers and transit rights, have not been agreed on.

    Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, pulled out of Singh's delegation to Dhaka, saying the proposed new treaty to share water from the Teesta river conceded too much.

    "We have decided to continue discussions to reach a mutually acceptable, amicable and fair agreement on the sharing of the... river water," Singh said at the ceremony in Dhaka.

    Singh will meet with Begum Khaleda Zia, the Bangladeshi opposition leader, on Wednesday.

    Growing trade

    Ties between the two countries have suffered over recent years because of Indian worries that religious extremists were using Bangladesh as a base.

    Nevertheless, relations have improved since the traditionally pro-Indian Awami League party, led by Prime Minister Hasina, acted against anti-India extremist groups.

    Bilateral trade has grown steadily but remains heavily in India's favour, with the gap widening, causing concern in Bangladesh where businesses are asking for the removal of both tariff and non-tariff barriers.

    Last year, India gave Bangladesh a billion-dollar soft loan, the biggest credit package New Delhi has ever earmarked for any nation.

    Singh's visit comes after an embarrassing slip-up in June, when he, in an interaction with senior journalists, claimed that many Bangladeshis were "very anti-Indian".

    Singh's visit, which is set to end on Wednesday, is the first by an Indian prime minister to Bangladesh in 12 years.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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