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India-Bangladesh Border Tensions 'Substantially Reduced', Says Khan

Bangladesh's foreign minister says he has made progress during a visit to the Indian capital that focused on ways to defuse tensions between the two countries over the issue of illegal immigration.

Morshed Khan, the Bangladesh foreign minister, says tensions on the border between India and his country have been "substantially reduced" following his meetings with Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and other Indian leaders.

Tension between the two normally-friendly neighbors rose after India announced that it would deport illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh. Indian officials say 15 to 20 million Bangladeshis are in India illegally, and more continue to arrive. Bangladesh denies that its people migrate illegally to India.

The dispute triggered a standoff earlier this month as both countries squabbled over the nationality of a group of more than 200 people stranded on the border. India claimed they were Bangladeshis trying to enter India. Dhaka accused India of pushing its own nationals into Bangladesh. Border security forces from both countries went on high alert.

The standoff ended when the group disappeared. India claimed the people had returned to Bangladesh in the dead of night. Dhaka denied it. It is still unclear today where those people actually are.

Nevertheless, Mr. Khan told VOA that both countries have decided to settle any future dispute over illegal immigrants peacefully. "The use of force, we have decided that use of force will not be applied by anybody," he said. "It is through discussion that we will finally resolve. Because such a long border, people may come to India or people may come from India to Bangladesh. This happens on a long border. Through evidences, through documentary evidences we can always find out where they are from, and we can resolve through discussions."

Mr. Khan says both countries also need to deal with the thriving, illegal trade that takes place along the border.

He met business leaders in New Delhi, and says Dhaka wants greater access to Indian markets to reduce its $1 billion trade deficit with India. "This is something that concerns us because we have more than [one] billion dollar trade deficit officially," he said. "Unofficially another $2.5 billion illegal trade on the border - smuggling."

Indian officials say the two countries will hold further talks to address the problem of illegal immigration. They say Dhaka must cooperate with New Delhi to stem the flow of Bangladeshis coming to India in search of work.