President's strong message to Bangladesh



On Board Air India One: President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday sent a strong message to Bangladesh, rocked by violence, counselling that political differences be resolved through dialogue and communal peace and harmony maintained.

Wrapping up his three-day state visit to Bangladesh--his first foreign tour since assuming the highest office last August--Mukherjee said he has "conveyed to all our interlocutors (in Bangladesh) the need for an inclusive political process and the maintenance of communal peace and harmony".

His remarks assume significance as Bangladesh has been buffeted by days of violence unleashed by activists of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami protesting the trial of its top leaders on charges of war crimes during the 1971 liberation war and attacks on Hindus, their houses and temples in several parts of that country.

Jamaat activists have clashed with police and activists of Awami League and other secular cultural outfits, leaving more than 70 people dead since the fundamentalist party's Vice President Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death last Thursday by a war tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity.

"We are hopeful that internal political differences can be resolved through dialogue and that the rights of all communities would be fully respected," Mukherjee said in a statement he read out to the media accompanying him on board the aircraft carrying him back from Dhaka to New Delhi.

During his stay in Dhaka, he had meetings with a cross- section of Bangladesh leadership including Prime Minister and Awami League Sheikh Hasina and Jatiya Party chief HM Ershad.

However, top Opposition leader and Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia, an ally of Jamaat, cancelled her meeting with Mukherjee, leaving a sour note to the President's visit.

Asked to comment on Zia's action, Mukherjee said "the (Indian) Foreign Secretary has already briefed you on that".

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had yesterday said that the President was looking forward to meeting Zia who expressed inability to make it.

Mukherjee said "a democratic secular and progressive Bangladeshi is clearly in India's interest".

He said during his talks with Bangladesh leaders he "underlined our commitment to resolving all outstanding issues in our bilateral relations" including arriving at a Teesta river water-sharing and implementing the agreement for demarcation of land boundary.

While BJP has opposed the land boundary agreement, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has come in the way of the Teesta accord.

However, the President said the presence of four parliamentarians of CPI(M), BJP, Trinamool Congress and Congress in his delegation to Bangladesh visit "is reflective of the broad-based support in India, cutting across party lines, to developing strong and friendly relations with Bangladesh".

PTI