Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hasina seeks oppn cooperation for national unity on Tipaimukh

Dhaka: Amid main opposition BNP's demand for scrapping of the cross-border Tipaimukh dam project in Manipur, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina has sought its chief Khaleda Zia's cooperation for national unity on the issue with India in order to achieve "cent percent success" in protecting the country's interest.

"Tipaimukh issue is a national problem. The nation should not be divided for political reasons. We will be unable to protect our national interests if we are divided. Unity will strengthen our bargaining capacity," Hasina told a meeting of senior party leaders last night.

"We will not allow anything that will cause the slightest harm to the country," Hasina was quoted as saying at the meeting by the ruling Awami League spokesperson and Local Government Minister Syed Ashraful Islam.

Hasina's comments, in which she also highlighted the need to attain "cent percent success" in protecting the country's interest, came hours after Zia at a BNP-sponsored function promised to extend her hand to the government on the issue, saying "don't" be afraid, you are not alone, we will be with you (government) in protecting the national interest."

"I urge the Indian Prime Minister to formally announce cancellation of the project," Zia told a seminar on the possible impacts of the cross-border hydro-electric dam in Bangladesh, organised by her party.

Zia, however, said, "I appreciate his (Singh's) statement" assuring Hasina that his country would not do anything that might affect Bangladesh.”

Hasina last month said she expected resolution of the Tipaimukh Dam issue through talks with India with cooperation of her archrival Zia, but added that she was in a dilemma if the opposition wanted to "resolve or politicise" the issue.

Hasina and Zia's latest comments came days after Prime Minister Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart met on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Egypt earlier this week.

"This assurance (by Singh that India would not do anything that might affect Bangladesh) will help her (Hasina's six-month-old) new government overcome an embarrassing situation with regard to the Tipaimukh issue," leading foreign relations analyst Professor Imtiaz Ahmed said.

He said the "no harm clause" of international conventions and laws regarding trans-boundary rivers were now expected to get priority in the project.

Professor Anwar Hossain, another international politics expert, said "the significance of Dr Manmohan Singh's gesture is immense .. but Hasina's talks with Singh could bring a fruitful result over the Tipaimugh issue if successful diplomatic manoeuvring could be made as follow up measures."

Meanwhile, environmental activists and protesters in Bangladesh set out on a six-day 264-km-long march from Dhaka to northeastern Sylhet to mobilise public opinion against the dam project.

Over two dozens protesters, including women belonging to a left leaning youth group, earlier this month tried to gate-crash the Indian High Commission office in Dhaka, demanding scrapping of the Tipaimukh project, leading to a brief clash with police which left nearly a dozen people injured.

A 10-member Bangladesh parliamentary delegation is set to visit India next week to have an idea on the impact of Tipaimukh Dam amid growing concerns and protests in Bangladesh over the project on Barak River along the northeast borders.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni earlier this month urged New Delhi to keep the project work suspended until the visit of a parliamentary delegation as Water Resource Minister Ramesh Chandra Sen last week said Bangladesh was yet to get the Indian Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the project.

The project falls under 'red category' in terms of environmental risk categorisation.

The Barak, which is divided in two streams, the Surma and Kushiyara entering in Bangladesh, is the main source of flow in this country's major Meghna basin covering the northeastern and central regions.

Bangladesh is criss-crossed by nearly 230 rivers with 54 being trans-boundary ones and mostly originating from India while officials said the lower riparian country gets 7 to 8 percent of its total water from the Barak.

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