The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi, Beijing close border dispute gap

New Delhi, Nov. 21: Chances of India and China finally exchanging maps of the controversial western sector brightened today after the neighbours succeeded in narrowing down much of their differences on their respective positions along the Line of Actual Control.

The two sides completed two rounds of negotiations during the day. A final round is awaited and if things pass off smoothly, an announcement is likely on early resumption of the meeting of the India-China Experts’ Group.

The meeting will be significant as this would be the forum where the two would exchange maps explaining each other’s position in the western sector.

In the boundary dispute between Delhi and Beijing, the western and eastern sectors are the most crucial and controversial areas.

The central sector is the least contentious and the two sides have already exchanged maps on it. The eastern sector will be taken up last. The focus now is on the western section, which contains Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and also the land gifted to China by Pakistan through a treaty in 1963.

In today’s talks, vice-foreign minister Wang Yi led the Chinese delegation, while foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal led the Indian team.

Wang called on foreign minister Yashwant Sinha in the evening and briefed him on the progress of the talks and also discussed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s proposed visit to China early next year.

“The talks were good and forward looking,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. But he refused to give any further detail as the third and final round of negotiations was not yet complete.

But the foreign secretary gave enough indications to suggest that the talks had progressed much better than expected.

“We have been able to largely overcome the hurdles on our perception over the LAC,” he said. Sibal described the negotiations held so far as “positive” and made it clear that if the two sides manage to reach an agreement, maps on the western sector could soon be exchanged.

Officials said the current exercise between Delhi and Beijing was to describe each other’s position along the LAC in the western sector. Once the two sides agree on the descriptions, there will be an exchange of maps.

However, acceptance of the maps does not mean endorsement of each other’s claim to the disputed land. It would only help the armed forces get a better idea of areas under their control and those controlled by the other side.

The two sides had earlier agreed to finish preliminary discussions on the boundary issue by the year-end.

If they conclude their negotiations successfully and reach an agreement, a meeting of the experts’ group will be convened by next month. Talks on the boundary dispute can then be taken forward.

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