Friday, February 24, 2012

More work to do for Teesta

Manmohan tells Shahara; Delhi reassures Dhaka of steps for no border firing at talks of home ministers. 


India yesterday assured Bangladesh that efforts were on to bring down the incidents of Border Security Force firing along the border to zero and that the issue with the proposed treaty on Teesta water sharing would be resolved.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed this to Bangladesh Home Minister Shahara Khatun, who called on him at his residence in New Delhi yesterday morning. 

"We are trying to resolve the Teesta issue," quoting the Indian premier Shahara told representatives of Bangladeshi media later on. She had a separate press conference for Bangladeshi newsmen.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's foreign affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi, who was also present, said the Indian prime minister conveyed that "some progress has been made towards solving the Teesta issue but more work is needed".

The Teesta treaty could not be signed during Manmohan's visit to Dhaka in September last year following last minute objection from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She even pulled out of Manmohan Singh's entourage to Dhaka. 

Shahara said she told Manmohan that "the people of Bangladesh want the Teesta issue to be resolved soon". 

She said the Indian prime minister told her that the agreement on land boundary demarcation and exchange of enclaves, signed by the two countries during Manmohan's Dhaka visit, would be placed before the Indian parliament for ratification during its budget session due next month.

After her talks with Manmohan, Shahara had one-on-one talk with her Indian counterpart Palaniappan Chidambaram and then delegation-level talks. Shahara led a 12-member delegation to New Delhi.

During a joint media interaction with Chidambaram at the Taj Man Singh hotel, Shahara said she raised the issues of border firing and killings by BSF during the talks and India assured that steps would be taken so that no killing or torture of Bangladeshis takes place in future.

"We have discussed how to avoid future border firings and killings of Bangladeshis," she said. 

Chidambaram said, "We have reiterated that we do not intend to continue border firings and killings and both the sides identified 23 vulnerable border outposts where the two countries will strengthen the presence of border guards and resort to joint consultations.

"If we can do that, I'm sure there will be no more firing and the incidents of border firing and killing will be brought down to zero,” he added.

The Indian home minister said "there has been a dramatic decline" in border firing incidents in the eight months, since his visit to Dhaka in July last year. 

"Only three incidents have taken place--one in November and two in December last year in which four people were killed who were cattle smugglers,” he claimed.

Chidambaram said he had handed over a dossier to Shahara explaining the circumstances in which BSF had to resort to their guns.

"In each case, one of our jawans on the border was grievously injured and his colleagues fired to save him," he said, adding, "We regret these incidents but there are cases in our view in which there was no option other than firing.

"We don't want this to continue and in the last seven weeks, there has been no incident of firing.”

Shahara said Bangladesh raised the issue of BSF Director General UK Bansal's remark during an interview with the BBC where he was quoted as saying that border killings would not stop completely. She said the Indian side gave her the transcript of the interview and said Bansal never said what he had been quoted to have said. The Indian delegation claimed that the media interpreted his words that way.

Interestingly, UK Bansal reiterated to Press Trust of India Thursday that firing at the Bangladesh-India border cannot be stopped completely and BSF jawans can fire in self defence.

Shahara said she had also brought up the issue of handing over of two killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Capt Abdul Mazed and Risaldar Moslehuddin Khan. Bangladesh shared some information about them with the Indian side.

Chidambaram said the West Bengal government is trying to locate the two. He made it clear that finding a legal way to hand them over to Bangladesh, after they are found, would not be a problem even with the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries. "…but the main problem is tracing them," he said.
Shahara said the Bangladesh delegation discussed the issue of border management, including the deal on land boundary and exchange of enclaves and unresolved issues relating to this, and trafficking in women, children and drugs and 6.5km of un-demarcated border between the two countries.

Referring to the recent torture of a young Bangladeshi man by BSF personnel in Murshidabad of West Bengal, a video clip of which was shown on Indian TV channels, Shahara said India has taken punitive action against eight BSF personnel and "I thank the Indian government for that".

She said both sides deliberated on the impediments to the implementation of the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement on land boundary and exchange of enclaves. The Bangladesh home minister said the Indian side told her that it would be possible to implement the agreement "at the earliest and we hope to take relevant steps towards that".

She said India had proposed Bangladesh imposing night-time curfews along the border to stop illegal movement of people. 

Highly-placed Bangladeshi sources, however, said Dhaka would examine the proposal but curfew at night in border areas could create difficulties for the poor people there. 

Shahara hoped that the home minister-level talks between India and Bangladesh would become an annual event henceforth and "I invited Mr Chidambaram to visit next year".

She said India had brought up the issue of handing over United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) leader Anup Chetia, who has served his sentence term in Bangladesh for intrusion without valid documents, and "we told them as the court case process against him is over, he will be handed over".

"You will see a solution in near future. We are committed to handing over these people to India and we have no intention to hold him back," added Shahara.