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India, Pak to hold maritime border talks

The talks aim at resolving a dispute over an estuary on their border that has hampered exploration for oil and gas.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 12:31 IST

Pakistan and India are to hold talks on Friday aimed at resolving a dispute over an estuary on their border that has hampered exploration for oil and gas and led to the detention of hundreds of their fishermen.

The talks on the Sir Creek estuary, that flows into the Arabian sea between the Pakistani province of Sindh and Gujarat in India, are part of a tentative peace process the nuclear-armed neighbours launched in early 2004.

The two countries agreed in May to carry out a joint survey of the 100-km-long estuary.

Their military officials will discuss modalities for conducting the survey in talks on Friday and Saturday in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

"The delegations of the two countries will deliberate and work out a mechanism for undertaking a joint survey in Sir Creek," the Pakistani Ministry of Defence said in a release.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who has called for compromise over the core dispute with India over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, said this month the Sir Creek dispute "can be resolved expeditiously with courage".

Analysts say demarcation of the estuary should not be difficult to agree but decades of mistrust has hampered a settlement.

India says the boundary should lie in the middle of the estuary, basing its claim on accepted practice as well as pillars built down the middle of the channel during British colonial rule.

Pakistan says the border should lie on the southeastern bank of the creek, basing its claim on a line shown on a map drawn by the British governor of Bombay in the early 20th century.

Experts say the two countries could reach a compromise through a new survey.

The water flow has changed over the decades, necessitating the re-demarcation of the area. The dispute has prevented the two sides agreeing on their maritime boundary and hampered offshore exploration in an area thought to hold oil and gas deposits.

Authorities from the two countries also regularly arrest each others' fishermen in the estuary for illegal intrusion.

Fishermen complain they often don't know whose waters they are in because of the dispute.

Pakistani authorities will release 70 Indian fishermen on Friday, most of whom were detained in Sir Creek. India is due to release 31 Pakistani fishermen at the same time, a Pakistani maritime official said on Thursday.

A Pakistani analyst said warming relations between the leaders of the two countries could bode well for a solution.

"Basically, what is needed is the political will on both sides to resolve it," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani army general and a defence analyst.

"Both have to give in, to some extent, to reach an agreement ... Given the present state of relations between the leaders of the two countries, we hope that they will come to some solution," he said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947 and nearly went to war a fourth time in 2002.

Relations have improved since they launched a peace process almost three years ago although they have yet to make any tangible progress on the Kashmir issue.