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Dhaka and Delhi launch census in enclaves
by Staff Writers
Dhaka, Bangladesh (UPI) Jul 15, 2011

Bangladesh and India are conducting a joint population census in pockets of isolated territories within each other's national boundaries to end a long-standing border issue.

The census will cover all the 162 enclaves on both sides of the border as a first step toward an agreement over practical ownership of the lands and a land-swap, a report by Bangladesh's national news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha said.

Bangladesh and India share a border more than 2,500 miles long drawn up by the British when they left the Indian subcontinent in 1947. It divided the land mass between the two new countries, India and Pakistan.

At the time, Pakistan comprised West Pakistan, along India's western border, and East Pakistan along its eastern frontier. The two Pakistans were one country, with its capital in Karachi, West Pakistan.

Tensions and cultural differences resulted in East Pakistan gaining independence as Bangladesh in 1971.

However, the border issue with India was never settled. It left 111 Indian-administered areas -- enclaves -- within Bangladeshi territory as well as 51 Bangladeshi exclaves on the Indian side of the frontier.

The largest enclave is about 4,700 acres and the smallest around the size of two football fields. The total enclave population is estimated to be 150,000-300,000.

This week's census is being conducted by the Joint Boundary Working Group, which is working on a mechanism to exchange territories, based on a 1974 agreement.

The census will be part of information considered by the two countries when they kick-start discussions during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka in September.

"Joint teams of both the countries have completed the preparatory works for the headcount at the enclaves and we expect to refer the matter to a political level for a decision," Bangladeshi Home Ministry Secretary Kamaluddin Ahmed told the BSS.

"We are hoping to reach an understanding that will be pragmatic and take account of the ground realities, keeping in mind the spirit of the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974," Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told a news conference last week.

She said an agreement would "end the uncertainties and hardships of the people living in these areas."

But settling the issue may be harder than imagined. Among the enclaves are about two dozen counter-enclaves -- enclaves within enclaves.

There also is what the Economist Newspaper has called "the world's only counter-counter enclave -- a patch of Bangladesh that is surrounded by Indian territory, itself surrounded by Bangladeshi territory."

A settlement would go a long way to helping the overall security situation along the porous border where smuggling is rampant, from guns destined to rebel groups to cough syrup sold on the black market for its alcoholic content.

For a decade India has been constructing a 2,500-mile concrete and barbed-wire fence along the border to thwart the smugglers. By September, around 1,550 miles of the $1.2 billion project had been built.

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