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Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Nations to hold first joint drill

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Bangladesh soldiers in Dhaka, file pic
The first exercise will be small-scale but a "step forward"

India and Bangladesh are to hold their first ever joint military exercise, senior army officials have said.

The move follows the landslide victory of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League in Bangladesh's general election, which was held on 29 December.

Officials will meet this month to discuss the small-scale exercise, which will be held in late February.

India has long regarded Bangladesh as a shelter for separatist rebels operating in its north-eastern states.

Bangladesh has persistently denied accusations that it is harbouring the rebels.

'Confidence-building'

Within 15 days of the regime change in Dhaka , India and Bangladesh have finalised the plans for the joint military exercise.

Indian defence ministry spokesman Group Capt Ramesh Kumar Das told the BBC that the exercise would be held in Jorhat in the troubled north-eastern state of Assam from 22 February to 7 March.

Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina won a landslide victory on 29 December

"With India keen on securing Bangladesh's firm co-operation in rooting out anti-Indian terror and insurgent outfits operating from its soil, the armies from the two countries will come together to hold their first-ever counter-terrorism exercise," Mr Das said.

He said a platoon from Bangladesh's army - five officers and 15 soldiers - would operate with a similar strength of Indian para-commandos in an area where Indian forces are involved in counter-insurgency operations against separatist forces.

"Though a small exercise, this is a step in the right direction," Mr Das said.

"This exercise was planned and conceived as a confidence-building measure between the two countries as both are threatened by terrorism."

The plans for the joint exercise were discussed during the visit of a Bangladesh military delegation to Calcutta's Fort William, headquarters of India's Eastern Army, in the last week of December.

Bangladesh's army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed took the initiative to develop military-to-military ties with India when he visited Delhi and Calcutta early last year.

The ties were cemented with the visit of Indian army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor to Dhaka in August last year.

Sheikh Hasina, the new Bangladeshi prime minister, has promised to root out militancy in her country.

The Indian army fought with Bangladeshi troops against Pakistani soldiers in 1971 - a war that led to the creation of independent Bangladesh.

But relations worsened after the military coup of August 1975 and the assassination of the country's first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina's father.

In recent years, there have been repeated border clashes between the countries.



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SEE ALSO
Hasina wins Bangladesh landslide
30 Dec 08 |  South Asia
Indian separatists 'surrendering'
13 Jan 09 |  South Asia
Profile: Sheikh Hasina
29 Dec 08 |  South Asia
Fears over Assam vigilante violence
08 Sep 08 |  South Asia
Q&A: What hopes for peace in Assam?
03 Nov 08 |  South Asia

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