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Left plainspeak greets Bangla envoy

New Delhi, Nov. 1: Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan, in town as a 'special envoy' to invite the Prime Minister for January's Saarc summit in Dhaka, held a surprise meeting with Left leaders today.

Determined to ensure that the summit goes off without a hitch, the minister ' who met Manmohan Singh, foreign minister K. Natwar Singh and commerce and industries minister Kamal Nath ' earlier assured Delhi that Dhaka would not allow its territory to be used by Northeast insurgents.

He said Bangladesh would work closely with India to maintain strict vigil along their 4,000-odd km porous border.

The Indian establishment was understandably sceptical about Khan's assurance, but the visiting minister must have been a little surprised about how strongly the CPM's Prakash Karat and the CPI's A.B. Bardhan voiced their concerns about the Northeast rebels. The two states ruled by the Left, Tripura and Bengal, share borders with Bangladesh.

The Left had earlier joined the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in issuing a clear signal to Dhaka that good bilateral relations would be meaningless as long as it continues to ignore Delhi's security concerns.

Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh alike raised the presence of Northeast insurgents in Bangladesh and made it clear that Dhaka needs to take urgent steps to address India's security concerns. Delhi is aware that Dhaka has always found some excuse to drag its feet over taking meaningful action against the armed rebels.

Khan's meeting with CPM politburo member Karat and CPI general secretary Bardhan at the latter's party headquarters was at his own initiative. The leaders told him unambiguously that the Left wanted strong ties with Bangladesh. But they said bilateral relations could not progress meaningfully unless 'some of the major irritants', especially those relating to rebel camps, were removed.

Karat had earlier told newsmen that he expected the Centre to take up the issue 'strongly with Bangladesh to make it clear activities of the Northeast insurgents in its territory must cease'.

During their talks with Khan, the Left leaders said they were aware from the experience of their party governments that Bangladesh has not acted against rebels despite being provided a list of insurgent camps operating from the country many times.

They mentioned that United Liberation Front of Asom leader Paresh Barua has given interviews from Bangladesh regularly and pointed to Dhaka's decision to release Tripura insurgent leader Sanjit Deb Burman to a non-governmental organisation from which he managed to flee.

Morshed sympathised with the Left concerns but said even Dhaka was a victim of insurgence. He pointed out that the armed rebels take advantage of the porous border to repeatedly cross into Bangladesh.

The minister said there were no rebel training camps in Bangladesh, adding that whenever insurgents take shelter there they only stay a few days. He cited the example of a tea garden he owns that was visited by armed rebels. Morshed said his employees at the garden were roughed up and forced to give money and food to the insurgents.

Officially, the Indian foreign ministry sought to play down the differences with Bangladesh. Officials said the two sides discussed better border management cooperation and insurgency-related issues.

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