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June 16, 1998


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Bangladesh backs India on issue of third party mediation

Bangladesh today virtually endorsed India's view that there was no room for third party involvement in the dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad and appreciated the security concerns that India says prompted it to conduct nuclear tests.

At her meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina reportedly said it was the sovereign right of every country to take appropriate measures, keeping in view its security concerns.

Official sources said both sides were ''in clear agreement'' that bilateral matters should be dealt with bilaterally with no third country involved. The emphasis, during the talks, was on bilateral relations and the need to further consolidate these.

Vajpayee allegedly explained to the Bangladesh premier the Indian view of the decision to conduct nuclear tests and briefed her on the security environment in the region. Sheikh Hasina said her visit had given her a better understanding of the recent events in the region, including the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan.

The prime minister also gave her the details of the unilateral gestures made by India to achieve complete global nuclear disarmament. In this connection, he referred to the voluntary moratorium on further nuclear tests by India, its stand on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and India's call for a nuclear weapons convention.

She said India's declaration of a voluntary moratorium on further nuclear tests was ''encouraging''.

During her day-long working visit, Sheikh Hasina also met former prime minister I K Gujral and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Sheikh Hasina's remark that bilateral issues should be resolved by the countries concerned is being seen as significant in diplomatic circles. Prior to her arrival in New Delhi, it was feared that she might suggest Dhaka be the venue for talks between India and Pakistan.

The Bangladesh prime minister's visit to New Delhi was the first by a foreign leader after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government came to power. She also invited Vajpayee over to Dhaka. The invitation was accepted in principle.

She assured that her government would not allow her country's territory to be used for any anti-Indian activity. India, meanwhile, has allegedly also sought the extradition of United Liberation Front of Asom general secretary Anup Chetia, arrested in Dhaka last December.

The two leaders also suggested there was ample scope to improve economic ties between the two countries. In this connection, they decided to reinvigorate the Indo-Bangladesh joint economic commission.

Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh valued its time-tested friendship with India and was eager to further consolidate it.

Both prime ministers referred to the coming South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation summit in Colombo next month and felt that the regional grouping should be strengthened to promote co-operation among member countries.

Both sides also agreed to abide by the provisions of the Indo-Bangladesh Ganga Water Treaty signed in December 1996. The two sides felt the treaty was a landmark in the relations between the two countries and could become an example for resolution of bilateral issues. Vajpayee also praised the ''bold'' leadership of Sheikh Hasina for reaching a settlement on the return of Chakma refugees.

The meeting between the two prime ministers was followed by delegation-level talks, lasting 45 minutes.

Vajpayee was assisted by Home Minister L K Advani, Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje, Foreign Secretary K Raghunath and principal secretary to the prime minister Brajesh Mishra.

The Bangladesh premier was assisted by Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Azad, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdul Hasan Chowdhury, Foreign Secretary Mustafizur Rehman and her principal secretary S A Samad, among others.

After the talks, the prime minister hosted a lunch in the honour of the Bangladesh premier. It was attended, among others, by former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and I K Gujral.


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