The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi mulls Zia hub deal

New Delhi, Feb. 12: Delhi is willing to give to Dhaka — after years of hard-nosed negotiations — the 1.5-km stretch in Belonia sector of the Indo-Bangla border, in which Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Assembly constituency Feni falls, in return for concessions in other sectors and a firm commitment that it will take immediate steps to address India’s security concerns.

Of the 4,000-odd km border between the two countries, only 6.5 km is yet to be demarcated. Of this, 1.5 km falls in Belonia sector in Tripura.

India is willing to make concessions in this sector, but wants the 3.5 km in Lathitila-Dumabari sector in Assam. Delhi also favours making the mid-point of Sui river the boundary for the remaining 1.5 km in Daikatha sector in West Bengal.

Officials feel this formula could help resolve the discord over the demarcation of the border between the two countries and also play a crucial role in restoring confidence in Indo-Bangla relations.

It is not clear whether India will put the proposal formally before Dhaka tomorrow when Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan starts discussions with his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha. However, there are indications that Delhi would take off the “kid gloves” to make the neighbour understand that, unless India’s security concerns are taken seriously by Bangladesh, there is little chance of improvement in bilateral ties.

Khan arrives here on a four-day official visit tomorrow at the head of a high-level delegation. The Bangladesh foreign minister will hold discussions with Sinha and other officials of the foreign ministry. He will also call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On Friday, Khan is scheduled to meet deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He also plans to meet Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi.

“Illegal immigration” from Bangladesh into India will be one of the main topics of discussion as Khan’s visit takes place in the backdrop of the standoff between the neighbours along their border in Cooch Behar over the nationality of 213 snake charmers.

Indian officials are disappointed with Bangladesh and put much of the blame for the standoff on Dhaka’s attitude in “not accepting the ground reality”. South Block officials have argued that, every time the issue has come up in the past, Bangladesh has refused to acknowledge that “almost every day” many people cross over into India.

“We can think of steps to address the problem only after Bangladesh decides to acknowledge it,” said a senior foreign ministry official.

The other issue that India is concerned about is the presence of a large number of Northeast terrorists in Bangladesh.

These terrorists operate camps from the neighbouring territory and many of them, arrested by authorities in Bangladesh, are yet to be handed over to India.

Trade and other economic concessions could only be looked into after the Bangladeshi government gives an assurance of taking immediate steps to deal with India’s security concerns, asserted the official. “We are willing to give a lot of concessions to Bangladesh, provided the neighbour also reciprocates by taking steps to show that it too wants strong and friendly relations with India,” he said.

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