PM to hold talks with Khaleda today

None | ByReuters, New Delhi
Mar 21, 2006 11:59 AM IST

Talks are expected to focus on India's concerns over illegal immigration and terrorism. What's on Bangladesh's menu?

Neighbours India and Bangladesh begin talks on Tuesday that are expected to focus on New Delhi's concerns over illegal immigration and Islamic militants operating from Bangladeshi soil.

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Just ahead of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's meeting with her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, India's Border Security Force (BSF) said it had detained 1,200 Bangladeshis in West Bengal state this year.

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BSF officials said this was a 30 percent jump in the number detained in the eastern border state compared to the first eight weeks of 2005.

"We are deploying more troops to plug the gaps in the new transit points," BSF Inspector-General Somesh Goyal told Reuters. India already has tens of thousands of troops on the border that runs through forests, hills, marshes and rivers.

Hindu-majority India and mainly Muslim Bangladesh share a 4,000 km (2,500 mile) border which New Delhi is fencing to check the illegal entry of Bangladeshi economic migrants and what Indian officials say is infiltration of Islamic militants.

New Delhi also says Indian separatist militants have bases in Bangladesh and strike frequently in India's restive northeast, a charge Dhaka denies.

In the past four years, these issues have strained the traditionally friendly ties between the much larger and more economically powerful India and impoverished Bangladesh.

Khaleda's three-day visit to India, which officially starts on Tuesday, is her first since assuming power in 2001.

Dhaka denies Bangladeshis illegally enter India and says India has not consulted it while going ahead with its border fencing plan, which often leads to tension between their forces.

Under international pressure, Khaleda has cracked down on Islamist militants over the past few months, especially after concern in many world capitals following a series of coordinated blasts across the nation last August.

Indian analysts say New Delhi should encourage its neighbour to step up its campaign against Islamist militants which, they say, also pose a threat to India.

"The message to Khaleda Zia should be that it is in your own interest to crack down on Islamic militants," Uday Bhaskar, Deputy Director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses said.

"Religious radicalism is a double-edged sword and Dhaka should ensure it not does threaten Bangladesh itself."

Other issues Singh and Khaleda will address would be the $1 billion trade gap in India's favour and sharing of river waters.

New Delhi helped in creating Bangladesh in 1971 by militarily backing a freedom struggle in what was then East Pakistan.

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