India and Nepal leaders meet, signalling thaw in tensions

Leaders from India and Nepal held talks on Saturday to repair strained ties following a border blockade, as the neighbours signed nine pacts on issues such as trade and transport.

India had closed its border due to security concerns, after the ethnic Madheshi group in Nepal's southern Terai region held protests over the country's controversial new constitution.

Border trade resumed on February 12, after the Madheshis called off their blockade, but the halt on imports hit Nepal hard as it depends heavily on India for its supply of fuel and essential commodities.

Visiting Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi discussed bilateral ties and the political situation in Nepal at talks in New Delhi.

"The main mission of my visit is to clear the misunderstanding that surfaced in the last few months and to take back our relations to the same level of enthusiasm we saw when Mr Modi visited Nepal in 2014," Oli told reporters while standing alongside Modi.

Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said Oli's was not a "recriminatory visit" and indicated Delhi was confident that he would keep up his assurances to look into Madheshi demands.

The ethnic group reacted angrily to the constitution's redrawing of federal state boundaries, claiming that the reforms posed a threat to their autonomy.

Relations between the neighbours had soured in wake of the agitation of the Madheshis, who share family and cultural ties with India. More than 50 people died in the protests.

Nine pacts - including an agreement to utilize 250 million dollars of a 1-billion-dollar package pledged by India last year for Nepal's post-earthquake reconstruction - were signed after the talks.

The pacts also included agreements on trade channels, with landlocked Nepal now permitted secure transit routes to Bangladesh by road and rail, as well as use of India's Vishakapatnam port to boost trade with third countries.

Oli and Modi agreed to strengthen road infrastructure in the Terai area, while the leaders also inaugurated a transmission line for the supply of Indian electricity to Nepal.

Oli, who is on a six-day visit to India, is set to visit the financial hub of Mumbai, as well as the western Bhuj region to study reconstruction after an earthquake, which struck that region in 2001.

Last update: Sat, 20/02/2016 - 16:51
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