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Border fencing with Bangladesh must: Natwar

Dhaka, August 7
Stressing on the fencing of the long border with Bangladesh to curb smuggling and illegal migration, Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh today also sought to allay Dhaka’s concerns over a proposed river inter-linking project and the gas pipeline with Myanmar.

“A strong fence is useful for both sides to achieve their common objectives for mutual benefit,” said Mr Singh, who arrived yesterday on a two-day visit here. India shares over a 4000-km long border with Bangladesh.

“The border management authorities in both countries share the common objectives of ensuring peace and tranquillity and facilitating interaction between our two friendly people while doing their utmost to prevent illegal cross-border activity,” Mr Singh said.

He was alluding to a sharp increase in cross-border criminal activity, including illegal trade in arms and explosives, counterfeit currency, trafficking in narcotics, women and children.

He sought to allay Dhaka’s anxieties about a proposed river inter-linking project in India, saying the project was at “a conceptual stage” and the focus was on southern peninsular rivers, which would not affect water flows into Bangladesh.

Reiterating that New Delhi would take care of Dhaka’s sensibilities on the issue, he stressed that a calm and thoughtful approach would help both countries in the long run. “It is important that we avoid sensationalising the issue,” he asserted.

India’s Joint River Commission would meet by the end of this month to decide the issue, he said.

Mr Natwar Singh also took time off today to visit the Liberation War Museum, which showcases photographs and documents of the 1971 war that depicts the mass murder and genocide by the then Pakistani military regime before Indian forces marched in to “liberate” then East Pakistan into what is now Bangladesh.

The proposed construction of a tri-nation gas pipeline from Myanmar to India through Bangladesh received a boost on Saturday with Bangladesh agreeing in principle to facilitate the transit of Burmese gas to India. India and Bangladesh have made significant progress on forward movement in bilateral relations, including the critical issues of border fencing and patrolling with New Delhi agreeing in principle to extend the number of areas for coordinated patrolling and Dhaka willing to cooperate on the 1975 border guidelines, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said.

The two countries also finalised the bilateral trade agreement and the bilateral investment protection agreement. Both these agreements are ready for signing and will be signed by Commerce Minister Kamal Nath during his visit here later this year.

Mr Shyam Saran, while briefing reporters on the outcome of the two-day visit of External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and his discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart Morshed Khan, Finance Minister Saif-ur-Rehman held yesterday and with Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia today, said there was a broad agreement between the two countries to ‘’remain engaged’’ and a very strong desire to tackle and resolve issues and move ahead.

India today offered maximum flexibility in resolving critical outstanding issues with Bangladesh through dialogue for giving a fillip to political and economic ties between the two neighbours.

Spelling out New Delhi’s four-point approach towards its next-door neighbour at BRAC Center-In, visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said bilateral relations were far below their potential for which both the countries must take responsibilities.

During discussions between Natwar Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart M. Morshed Khan, the two sides discussed terrorism and agreed to take concrete steps to avert misunderstandings between the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).

Mr Natwar Singh also briefed Mr Khan on the latest developments relating to the initiative by India and the other G4 countries — Brazil, Japan and Germany — on the UN reforms. He also sought the support of Dhaka for the G4 resolution and India’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded Security Council.

Mr Natwar Singh, who was visiting Dhaka for the first time since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government came to power last year, also spoke about the need to harness the “enormous untapped potential” of ties with an “important and valued neighbour” that had suffered lately on account of differing perceptions on border, infiltration and trade.

Mr Natwar Singh’s Dhaka visit will also set the stage for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit here for the 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in November.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh today met Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and conveyed that India was fully committed to working towards deepening and further strengthening the on-going multi-faceted friendship and cooperation with the people and Government of Bangladesh.

Mr Singh, who was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and India’s High Commissioner Veena Sikri, handed over a letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the Bangladesh Premier. In an interview to leading Bangladesh daily, Jugantor, Natwar Singh indicated India would go ahead with fencing of the over 4000-km long porous border with Bangladesh. — IANS, UNI

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