Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Updates (October 28, 2010)

1) Does this signal an end to the BSF woes, possibly not? Linky

In line with a major policy decision taken a few months back, Bangladesh and India both have begun construction of structures within 150 yards of the zero line along the international border at designated areas. While this is a deviation from the Indo-Bangladesh Boundary Agreement 1974, on the parts of both countries, it is essentially addressing the needs of both too. The agreement restricts any construction within 150 yards of the zero line. Bangladesh allowed India to erect fences at a dozen places having important establishments including religious installations that could not be dismantled due to the sensitive nature of those. Terrains at some of those places are also difficult for erecting fences beyond the 150 yard zone. India recently began construction of the fences. India also allowed Bangladesh to construct structures within 150 yards of the zero line at 11 points of the country.

The arrangement came following a proposal from India early last year. India had been seeking to erect such fences within 150 yards of the zero line at 46 places since the last BNP regime. Talking to The Daily Star, Director General of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Maj Gen Rafiqul Islam said yesterday, "As we have agreed to the Indian proposal, India is also reciprocating by allowing Bangladesh to construct a bridge in Laxmipur, expansion of a wall in Hili, construction of approach roads in Moulvibazar and Bhomra, and several other initiatives. Our mutual agreement has created a very positive environment. Both countries are now willing to resolve long standing minor issues," he said, "This will help boost border trade on both sides."

Following last year's Indian proposal, BDR inspected various border points the same year, and submitted clearance to the Bangladesh home ministry about 12 out of the 46 points. India and Bangladesh conducted combined surveys of these areas as well, the BDR DG said. "We are continuing such surveys to see if accepting the Indian proposal will affect Bangladesh adversely in anyway," he added. As per the understanding, India will erect single channel fences at those 12 areas instead of barbed wired double channel ones like it erected beyond the 150 yard zone within its own territory. He made it clear that both countries are constructing the structures within their own boundaries.

Back in the early 1990s when India began erecting fences within permissible border areas on grounds of preventing smuggling and illegal migration among other reasons, it faced some problems. It identified the 46 points at the total 4,156 kilometres (km) long border, where it could not erect fences beyond 150 yards from the zero line. For now, Bangladesh has accepted the Indian proposal for erecting the fences within the 150 yard zone at 12 of the points. Bangladesh will decide about the remaining 34 places only after a joint verification in Assam and Meghalaya, said Bangladesh official sources.

Bangladesh foreign ministry sources said India told them that the fences will be erected over a period of time, and no timeframe has been fixed for completion of the joint survey. India however requested to expedite the verification process, they said. The officials, quoting Indian sources, said only 248 km of the allowed 571 km of such fencing along the border between Bangladesh and the Indian states of Assam and Meghalaya has been completed. Work is in progress for 123 km more, while for the remaining length (200 km) there are objections either from Meghalaya or Bangladesh, they added.

India has so far fenced 3,300 km of the border beyond the 150 yard zone within its own territory in line with the boundary agreement. According to BDR sources, the Indian authorities started erecting fences within 50 yards of the zero line at Azampur frontier under Akhaura of Brahmanbaria on Saturday. They said the neighbouring country already placed alignment designs for the 12 places. An official of the Bangladesh home ministry said, on condition of anonymity, that the government agreed to allow India to erect the fences within the 150 yard zone because of difficult terrains beyond that point. Citing examples, he said there is a religious establishment within five yards of the zero line at Hili border, and there is a wall at the boundary pillar in Benapole.

2) Faruk Khan's visit to India Linky

The minister said Bangladesh and India came up with some major developments such as establishment of border haats [commodity markets], agreement on movement of trucks between the countries, import of 3 lakh metric tonnes of par-boiled rice and 2 lakh metric tonnes of wheat from India and ensuring cotton-import quota for Bangladesh.

On Saturday, Bangladesh and India signed an MoU for establishing two border haats along the Meghalaya border. These haats will be opened by mid-February next year. Some 20 types of goods -- mainly agri and agro-based -- will be displayed for sale where currencies of the both countries will be accepted. Another major development of the visit, as the commerce minister claimed, was allowing transit for trucks from Nepal to Bangladesh up to Land Customs stations. India committed to do it during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January this year.

India has also agreed to consider Bangladesh's demand of excluding 61 items, including garments, from its sensitive list of 480 items, said Faruk Khan, adding that Bangladesh will get to import 11 lakh bales of cotton from India this year out of its total import demand of 55 lakh bales. The commerce minister termed the cotton deal the biggest success of his visit. So far this year, Bangladesh did not get 1.35 lakh bales of cotton from India despite opening of LCs. Bangladesh imports 30-35 percent of its cotton requirement from India.

India has also made other pledges including accreditation of certification of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI), reduction of items in its sensitive list, withdrawal of tagging "Made in Bangladesh" label on each jute bag exported to the country, he said. During the visit the business communities of the countries signed four memorandums of understanding (MoU) including setting up of a joint venture packaging industry in Bangladesh by Indian SRS Group and Nitol Group of Bangladesh. The Indian company will invest $50 million in this venture.
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Khan said the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, probably in January next, would help settle issues like allowing duty and quota-free export of apparel products to India. Referring to the non-tariff barrier in export of jute bags from Bangladesh to India, Khan said he discussed it with Indian Textile Secretary Rita Menon who assured him of necessary change in the law. Khan said allowing more garment items and jute bags from Bangladesh will reduce the huge trade imbalance between the two neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, Bangladesh would be able to export duty-free 1.7 million pieces of textile products in the last quarter of this year while a fresh duty-free quota of 8 million pieces would take effect from January 2011, he added.

3) Transit rights and other matters Linky

Bangladesh will hold talks with Nepal and Bhutan soon on allowing them to use Chittagong and Mongla ports, and sign Memorandums of Understanding as per the joint communiqué signed by the prime ministers of Bangladesh and India. Dhaka will also have talks with Delhi on the matter as both Nepal and Bhutan will need Indian land corridor for using the two ports. "We will visit Nepal and Bhutan soon, may be at the end of this month or early next month, to discuss the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports by the two countries. After reaching a decision with them, we will discuss it with India," the adviser told The Daily Star later.
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He mentioned that the shipping ministry is overseeing setting up of land customs offices at some border points. Procedure of operation has been settled for trucks from Nepal and Bhutan which will cross 200 metres from zero point, he added. The meeting emphasised building power transmission lines immediately for import of 250 MW electricity from India. It also discussed taking up more projects with the $1 billion Indian credit.
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Asked about sharing of the Teesta water, the adviser said it will take time to estimate the quantity of water the two countries now get.

4) News adds on the MOUs Linky

Four more MOUs were signed between Bangladesh and India during the commerce minister's visit to India. Of them three were signed with the Tata group. "Tata wants to study the feasibility of assembling Tata pickups in Bangladesh and production of retail parts of Tata vehicles used in Bangladesh. It also wants to open driving schools." Indian SRS Group and Bangladeshi Uttara Packing have also signed an MOU on setting up a joint packaging factory in Bangladesh. Both the countries have decided that trucks of both countries can enter 200 meters inside their borders.

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Elsewhere
5) ULFA talks: Linky

A local court today granted bail to ULFA political adviser and senior leader Bhimkanta Buragohain who served seven years in Tezpur jail. Additional Judge of Sonitpur district and sessions court Hemadevi Phukan Bhuyan granted Buragohain, popularly known as Mama, bail on the submission of surety of Rs 25,000 each for two bail petitions moved by his nephews Anup Phukan and Kula Mohan Barua.

Telegraph adds: Linky

Buragohain will now be taken to Guwahati Central Jail. He is likely to be released in a day or two after his one of relatives submits a bail bond. The court of the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) here had already granted bail to the Ulfa leader regarding one pending case and is awaiting submission of a bail bond. “I feel good as I am free now. I have not been able to meet my people for a long time. I have met a few of my relatives today on the court premises and felt really good,” Burgohain, while talking to The Telegraph today over phone from Tezpur, said. “I am happy that the process of releasing the jailed leaders of the outfit has started. However, our chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and other key leaders like Chitraban Hazarika and Sasha Choudhury are still inside the jail. I hope they are also released soon as the ongoing peace process can gain momentum only after the release of all the jailed leaders,” he said.

6) India-Burma trade: Linky

While India is almost prepared for the Indo-Myanmar border trade, the Myanmarese government has many works to finish for the same, an official said today. PK Neihsial, Superintendent of Central Land Custom based at Champhai, informed DoNER Secretary Jayati Chandra, who visited the proposed border trade area at Zokhawthar, said the border trade was yet to be commissioned. “While Mizoram almost prepared for the border trade, the Myanmarese government has not executed works as expected. Among others, the road from Tiau (border point) to Tiddim is yet to be made an all-season road,” the official informed the DoNER Secretary.

According to the customs official, border trade was taking place unofficially on one or two items of the 40 trade items listed for the border trade. He said fertilizers, bicycles, vehicle spare parts and medicines were at the top of the list of the items which Myanmar wanted to import from India. Neihsial also said all the departments concerned were ready to occupy their offices at the Land Custom building once the border trade took off.

7) The GJM travails: Linky

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to seek the opinion of all its leaders across the country before accepting the proposed set-up for the hills, an indication that the outfit is walking a tightrope and wants to avoid a Sixth Schedule-like fiasco that also brought out Subash Ghisingh’s nemesis. Sources confirmed that Morcha president Bimal Gurung would invite its unit leaders from across the country for deliberations on the interim set-up and Gorkhaland. “The meeting will be held very soon,” a source said. The date could probably be October 30, another source said.

The Morcha has formed units in the seven northeastern states besides Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It has a unit in Calcutta, too. The Nepali-speaking people from across the country had supported the Morcha agitation for Gorkhaland as they saw in it a solution to the identity issue of the Gorkhas. The new state, it was said, would give the Gorkhas the identity they had been craving for by differentiating between the Nepali-speaking Indians and the citizens of Nepal. Although the party has been insisting that the proposed arrangement is only temporary and the statehood movement will continue, Gurung and his think tank are wary because the initial agitation was for a new state and not a new administrative set-up. Under the circumstances, the Morcha wants a consensus to be reached before the interim set-up deal is inked. Observers said the Morcha did not want a repeat of the Sixth Schedule fiasco, another reason why a consensus is needed.

In the past, the Centre, the state and the Subash Ghisingh-led GNLF had signed a Memorandum of Settlement for conferring the Sixth Schedule status on the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling. The status could not be conferred because of a spontaneous opposition in the hills. The delay in amending the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution — the process starting almost one-and-a-half years from when the settlement was inked in 2006 — to include the Darjeeling hills proved to be Ghisingh’s nemesis. “Gurung is aware how Ghisingh, who was then considered the undisputed leader of the hills but had to go because of the mass opposition. The Morcha leadership does not want a repeat and will try to convince its unit leaders that the interim set-up is only for two years and that the party has not set aside the Gorkhaland issue,” said an observer.

The party is likely to firm up its decision on the interim set-up only after receiving feedbacks from its unit leaders. In fact, the Morcha yesterday asked its leaders from the Dooars and Terai to submit their opinions complete with their address and phone numbers. “A similar exercise will be conducted when members of other units are invited for discussion,” the source added. The prospect of settling the interim issue within the next political-level talks seems real as Gurung seems to have worked out a strategy to solve the territorial dispute. He has hinted that the solution is in the formation of a joint verification committee that will survey the Dooars and Terai and submit a report by 2011. “(After that) the government has to agree to include the Nepali-dominated areas in the administrative arrangement that will be in force till 2012,” he said yesterday.

8) On Anthony Shimray: Linky

Immediately after his arrest, the NSCN-IM’s special envoy, V.S. Atem, had written an angry protest letter to the Centre. But sources said the outfit soon realised the harm done to the talks and its chairman Isak Chishi Swu wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — and Muivah to the home ministry — explicitly “withdrawing” that letter.

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