B`desh for framework pact on transit with India

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be visiting Bangladesh from September 6-7.

Dhaka: Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s September 6-7 visit here, Bangladesh on Sunday said it preferred a framework agreement on transit between the two sides instead of a revised Indian proposal for inking a protocol on using this country`s two seaports.

"Bangladesh has prepared a draft on a framework agreement on transit which is likely to be presented for discussion during the meeting of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and India`s Dr Manmohan Singh," a senior official familiar with
the process told a news agency preferring anonymity.

He said that the agreement could be signed if the two Prime Ministers agreed to it.

His comments came a day after the unscheduled visit of National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon here, his second such trip in five days, to review the last-minute preparations ahead of Singh`s September 6-7 tour.

Mass circulated `Prothom Alo` newspaper reported today quoting a "responsible source" that New Delhi last week sent a revised draft of a protocol seeking to use Bangladesh`s southeastern Chittagong and southwestern Mongla ports.

The source said Dhaka was unwilling to sign the protocol as the issues of transit routes and fees were yet to be settled while the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Communication and the Tariff Commission and Revenue Board
earlier opposed the idea due to lack of preparedness.

"Due to practical reasons we need to sign a broad framework agreement first ahead of protocols detailing the nitty-gritty issues," Tariff Commission Chairman Mojibur Rahman, who was tasked to lead a committee to suggest transit
fees, earlier told newsmen.

According to another official familiar with the proposals, the commission said Bangladesh`s main seaport of Chittagong, however, was largely ready to let the facility be used for the transit but the transport mechanisms and routes
were yet to be readied and fees yet to be settled for the arrangement.

But, he said, the commission identified 15 routes as suggested in the Indian proposal for the transit for carrying goods to and from the two seaports while it submitted its report to the government proposing 7 cents for road ways, 3
cents for railways and 2.5 cents for waterways as "minimum" proposed transit fees.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith, however, earlier said Bangladesh and India could reach an agreement on the complicated transit fee issue during Singh`s crucial Dhaka visit.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s Foreign Affairs Adviser Gawher Rizvi, meanwhile, said Bangladesh intended to offer first the expanded transit facilities through water routes and then the preference would be given to the railway system.

"We can offer the transit facility to India only after developing our road infrastructures," he said.

On Menon`s visit last evening, official sources said he was in Dhaka for a few hours to review the latest developments linked to Singh`s September 6-7 tour.

"Mr Menon held meetings with Water Resources Minister Ramesh Sen and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s Foreign Affairs Adviser Gawher Rizvi and Economic Affairs Adviser Mashiur Rahman," a source told a news agency without elaborating.


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