India, Nepal agree to fast-track cooperation amid protests
Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Saturday began his two-day visit to Nepal with an agreement on fast-track cooperation even as police arrested nearly two dozen protesters trying to show black flags to the envoy and holding a demonstration in front of the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.
Menon, the first high-level Indian official to visit Nepal after the formation of a new coalition government, kicked off talks with the new premier, Madhav Kumar Nepal, in a bid to give impetus to the halted peace process.
"Both sides have agreed to reactivate the existing bilateral mechanism to address border problems," the prime minister's media advisor Rajan Bhattarai told IANS after the meeting.
"They have also agreed that the process should be sped up and the mechanism should promptly report any problems at the centre."
Ahead of Menon's visit, there were growing allegations of Indian encroachment on Nepali territory as well as assaults by India's border forces, the Sashastra Seema Bal.
Though the Indian embassy here in a statement termed the allegations "groundless", the issue was given a fresh lease of life when two teams of Nepali politicians and parliamentarians visited some of the controversial areas and upheld the allegations.
The border tiff coloured Menon's visit with members of Unified Nepal National Front trying to show him black flags as he stepped out of the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. The Unified Nepal National Front is an organisation that is asking India to hand over to Nepal almost a third of the Nepali territory that was ceded in the 19th century through a treaty with the British East India Company.
Phanindra Nepal, the chief of the Front, and 19 more protesters were arrested, police said.
As Menon proceeded towards the Indian embassy, more protests erupted. Police said they were under the banner of the Susta Bachao Abhiyan, a campaign against alleged Indian occupation of Nepali land.
The village of Susta lies in Nawalparasi region on the Indo-Nepal border and locals, who say they have been displaced by Indians, have formed a committee to begin a campaign to claim the village back.
The Indian government says all border disputes between the two neighbours have been resolved except for Susta and Kalapani, another disputed area on the Indo-Nepal-China border.
Both sides have also agreed to speed up bilateral initiatives to tame the Kosi river in the Terai plains in southern Nepal and prevent future inundation.
They will also speed up the repair and construction of transmission lines that were destroyed by the Kosi last year so that Nepal could obtain power from India and tide over its acute power scarcity.
Bhattarai said that both sides have also agreed to look into and speed up bilateral projects agreed upon during high-level visits but still not implemented, like the 250-MW Naumure hydro power project.
The Indian government had agreed to gift it to Nepal in June 2006 during the then Nepali prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala's visit to New Delhi.
However, despite Menon bringing a special invitation from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging newly installed premier Nepal to visit India, Rajan Bhattarai said dates could not be fixed as both sides remained busy with domestic as well as international engagements.
Nepal is scheduled to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Egypt to be held from July 11-16.
With his predecessor Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda having made China his first port of call after assuming office, there is growing speculation whether Nepal will visit New Delhi first or Beijing.
Though Menon also held a meeting with Prachanda, both sides remained tight-lipped about the nearly 45-minute parleys.
The top Indian envoy also met former premier Girija Prasad Koirala, who is relinquishing his leadership of the Nepali Congress parliamentary party Saturday with the party holding an election to choose a new chief.
He also had talks with the President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav. The Maoists are locked in a fierce dispute with the government over the president, accusing him of having overstepped his constitutional powers by reinstating the army chief they had sacked.