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Dhaka peace vital to India: Pranab

He says India wants peace in B'desh though it sees the current crisis as their internal matter, reports Shekhar Iyer.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 02:09 IST

India wants peace and development in Bangladesh though it views the current political crisis there as "an internal matter", External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday.

"As a neighbour, we are interested in Bangladesh remaining peaceful and stable," Mukherjee said in his first remark on the crisis in the neighbouring country. He was speaking at Jangipur in Murshidabad district after inaugurating an army health camp.

In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement that India is closely watching developments in Bangladesh.

“As a friendly neighbour, we are naturally interested in Bangladesh remaining peaceful, democratic and stable. It is our hope that the people of Bangladesh will be allowed to exercise their right to choose their own government in a free and fair manner in the forthcoming elections in accordance with their Constitution.”

Mukherjee’s statement followed Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon’s discussion with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee in Kolkata on the Bangaldesh situation. Menon was on his way back from Bhutan.

MEA officials say India is monitoring the deteriorating security situation in Bangladesh with concern. Eighteen people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in clashes between supporters of the outgoing government and the Opposition in Bangladesh. The tussle is over who should head an interim administration ahead of the elections.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's four-party coalition government came to the end of its mandate on Friday. President Iajuddin Ahmed was on Sunday sworn in as head of a caretaker government that will oversee the general elections next year.

It is still unclear if Ahmed's take over will end a political stand off with the country's main opposition group who have demanded a nonpartisan candidate is chosen to lead the impoverished nation.

Hasina's 14-party opposition alliance rejected Ahmed's offer to head the interim government after a former chief justice, KM Hasan, declined the post in the wake of deadly opposition-sponsored protests. Hasan had links with Zia's party. Ahmed does not belong to any party but he was previously elected as a candidate of Zia's party.

India’s main worry is how Bangladesh handles terrorist elements in the event of a major breakdown in the law and order scenario. New Delhi has often told Dhaka that it must do much more to curb the Islamist elements, who, it says, operate at the behest of the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, and sneak into India to commit acts of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has felicitated Mukherjee on assuming the post of external affairs minister. In a letter to Mukherjee, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri has said he is looking forward to "working closely" with him to bring about "durable peace and stability" in South Asia.

The letter was handed over by Pakistan's Deputy High Commissioner Mohammed Afra Siab to the External Affairs Ministry on Saturday, with a request that it be forwarded to the minister who is away in West Bengal.

Kasuri is expected visit India next month to attend the marriage of Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's daughter. He is likely to meet Mukherjee.

Kasuri conveyed to Mukherjee that he was "confident that under your sagacious stewardship, the ongoing peace process between the two countries would move forward towards resolution of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

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First Published: Oct 29, 2006 22:27 IST