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Border killings must drop to zero : Dr. Dipu Moni
Subir Bhaumik, Former BBC Correspondant
Border killings must drop to zero : Dr. Dipu Moni
PHOTO : Dr. Dipu Moni with TRIPURAINFOWAY team at State Guest House on July 10, 2014

(In an exclusive interview with senior journalist Subir Bhaumik before she left for Dhaka after delivering the keynote address at the Tripura Conclave (organized by TRIPURAINFOWAY.com ), former Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni touched on a whole range of issues pertaining of bilateral relations between the two countries and pitched for more sub-regional cooperation. Excerpts)

Bhaumik : Let's begin with the problem of Teesta river water sharing 

Dipu Moni : I think the Indian government was and now is all for signing the agreement on this issue that was worked out in 2010 when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka. We all know why the agreement could not be signed then, but I am hopeful the new Indian government headed by PM Narendra Modi will do its best to sign it. But the situation is tricky because West Bengal is still persisting with its objections and because India has a federal set-up. I am hopeful a consensus will emerge in the end and India will be able to fulfil its sovereign commitment. If that happens, our relations will further improve.

Bhaumik : You have pitched for a holistic approach to problems of river water sharing between two countries before !

Dipu Moni : Yes, I pitched for comprehensive basin management for the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin and I believe India and Bangladesh should take a holistic view of the problem of river water sharing in all our 54 common rivers. We are a lower riparian country where people still primarily depend on agriculture, so this is a key issue for us.

Bhaumik : Do you see that happening anytime soon !

Dipu Moni : Many Indian friends who specialise on rivers and also those in politics now agree that such a comprehensive approach is needed. They appreciated my approach when i pitched for basin management at an presentation in the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi last year. Waters of our common rivers are too important an issue for our people and it should not be politicised.

Bhaumik : India's BSF chief has said insurgent camps continue to exist in Bangladesh . Your take on it please !

Dipu Moni : The Hasina government has cracked down hard and with all sincerity against all Indian rebel groups who had found shelter in our territory during previous regimes.

Our government has zero tolerance for terror. The crackdown is continuing and our forces are trying to cover even the most inaccesible areas . There is no dearth of effort. India is a friend and we will not allow our territory to be used for terrorism against India. Our forces recovered a huge consignment of nweapons at Habiganj recently apparently from what was previously a Tripura rebel base . These elements will find no quarter in Bangladesh. Look at the 2004 Chittagong arms case judgement -- ULFA chief Paresh Barua has been sentenced to death.

Bhaumik : Your government has raised issue with India over BSF killing your citizens on the border .

Dipu Moni : Yes we have done that rather strongly and we have seen the rate of such killings over recent months as BSF has avoided arming their troops with lethal weapons on our border. But we want such killings to drop to zero ideally. No death is acceptable, specially when innocents who are sometimes unaware of the borders stray here and there.You will recall the killing of that girl Felanee . Such episodes only complicate our relations by hardening attitudes. They are better avoided.

Bhaumik : Now that India has provided duty free access to your products in our markets, some of your chambers of commerce has pitched for being allowed to invest a part of their profits from exports in northeastern India. Your take !

Dipu Moni : This is something worth consideration. Our laws dont allow our businesspeople to invest outside the country but Northeast India is in close proximity to Bangladesh and has some resources we are looking for. Those are areas where investment by our businesspeople may be considered. And governments must be pragmatic when imposing charges on trade . Look at Akhaura -- expenses are high, so traders have started shifting to Belonia checkpost.

Bhaumik : There is also a demand for more Indian investments in Bangladesh.

Dipu Moni : That must happen but Indian companies setting up units in Bangladesh should try their best to export their products and not sell within Bangladesh. That will help  us both.

Bhaumik : You have allowed Tripura to bring in heavy equipment for a power project through Chittagong port and Asuganj river port. Now your government is allowing Tripura to bring 10000 MT of foodgrains through this route that will cut down transport costs rather sharply. Can India look forward to formalising such arrangements so it can use Chittagong to access its entire Northeast !

Dipu Moni : We have the best of relations with Tripura since the days of our Liberation War when this state sheltered  more people from our country than the local population at that time. We have given Tripura these transhipment facilities but Tripura is also giving us power from the Palatana plant . I think 100 MW. It is always give and take. The people of Tripura treat us as their own relatives. We are prepared to give India use of Chittagong port but we expect India to deliver on some of its sovereign promises like Teesta. 

Bhaumik : Will India-Bangladesh relations move forward in the Modi era !

Dipu Moni : I think Modi's initial efforts to connect to neighbours and specially Bangladesh inspires a lot of confidence. We go by actual moves undertaken by his government and not by poll time rhetoric.

 

 

Dr. Dipu Moni  , Mr Matlub Ahmed (President Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce), former BBC correspondent Subir Bhaumik, Diplomats with TRIPURAINFOWAY Managing Director Saumen Sarker at TIWN Agartala office

 

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