India’s PM begins key visit to neighbor Bangladesh

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began a visit to Bangladesh on Tuesday aimed at warming often prickly ties between the two South Asian neighbors.

Singh and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are working to reach agreement on their disputed 2,545-mile (4,096-kilometer) border, explore cooperation in the power sector and enhance trade.

However, a hoped-for agreement on the sharing of water from the River Teesta flowing between their countries appears unlikely because of last-minute objections from the Indian state of West Bengal.

Singh made no immediate statement after arriving Tuesday. He is returning a visit by Hasina to India in January last year during which India granted Muslim-majority Bangladesh a $1 billion development loan and raised quotas on imports of textiles.

In a statement before he left New Delhi, Singh said India attached “the highest importance to further developing and strengthening our relations with Bangladesh.”

“It is a matter of satisfaction that we have made concrete progress in several areas such as security, boundary issues, water resources, power connectivity, improvement of border infrastructure, trade facilitation and economic cooperation,” Singh said. “I expect my visit to lead to greater cooperation between India and Bangladesh in all these areas.”

India helped Bangladesh secede from Pakistan in a 1971 war. However, relations soured after a 1975 military coup in Bangladesh when independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina’s father, was assassinated and a new government took over.

The chief ministers of four Indian states bordering Bangladesh are accompanying Singh but Mamata Banerjee, the newly elected chief minister of West Bengal, canceled her trip over reported disputes with the central government over the water-sharing plan.

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