India hopes to settle Bangladesh border issues

JULHAS ALAM - Associated Press
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks at Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.  Singh is in Bangladesh on a two-day visit .(AP Photo/ Subir Kumar)
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks at Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. Singh is in Bangladesh on a two-day visit .(AP Photo/ Subir Kumar)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday he hopes to settle all border disputes with Bangladesh under agreements the two nations signed a day earlier.

Singh, ending a two-day visit to Dhaka, said the disputes are the biggest challenge in building healthier relations between the neighbors.

"The first essential step is to create a defined and peaceful boundary that will provide a stable and tranquil environment for cross-border cooperation," Singh said in a speech at Dhaka University.

The disputes involve a variety of issues, including undemarcated portions of their 2,545-mile (4,096-kilometer) border and enclaves of Indians and Bangladeshis living in each other's countries.

India charges that Bangladeshi citizens cross illegally into its territory and is erecting barbed-wire fences along the border, which Bangladesh protests.

There are 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi ones inside India with a combined population of 51,000. The residents have no official right to receive government jobs and live without basic health or education facilities, and have been compared to stateless people because no country takes responsibility for them.

Singh said the enclave issue would be solved "without dislocating people."

He said he was looking forward to enhancing ties through closer cooperation.

However, his visit was undermined by a failure to sign expected deals on transportation and sharing of water resources.

India wants to transport goods across Bangladeshi territory to some of its impoverished and insurgency-wracked states, while Bangladesh wants a treaty on sharing water from the Teesta and Feni rivers.

But a last-minute objection by the Indian state of West Bengal blocked the planned water treaty. Mamata Banerjee, the newly elected chief minister of West Bengal, was to visit Bangladesh with Singh but canceled her trip over reported disputes with the central government over the plan.

Officials say that prompted Bangladesh not to sign an agreement to provide India with the transit facilities.

The two nations share 54 rivers that run through India and Bangladesh before reaching the Bay of Bengal.

Singh said he was hopeful the water issue would be resolved.

"I have asked all the concerned officials to intensify their efforts towards finding a viable formula, which does not cause undue distress to all those, in India or in Bangladesh, who are dependent on the flows of the river," he said.

Singh also attempted to allay concerns that a proposed dam at Tiapimukh in the Indian state of Manipur would harm Bangladesh's vast northeastern region.

"I wish to ... make it clear that India will not take steps that will adversely affect Bangladesh," Singh said.

Singh is returning a visit by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January last year during which India granted Bangladesh a $1 billion development loan and raised quotas on imports of textiles.

Under a new deal Tuesday, India agreed to allow 46 garment items duty and quota-free access to help Bangladesh reduce its more than $4 billion annual trade deficit with India.