India, Pakistan vow to continue with peace talks

TERRITORY: Politicians made way for naval officers and cartographers to argue about the maritime boundaries between the neighboring countries


Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 5

Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan ended three days of talks over their frontier yesterday, making no breakthroughs but saying they would keep talking as they try to build on a fragile peace process.

On Thursday and Friday, army and defense ministry officials spent two days chewing over a 20-year-old conflict over the remote Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, where more soldiers die of altitude sickness and frostbite than from conflict.

On Friday and yesterday, it was the turn of cartographers and naval officers to wrestle with an even older boundary dispute over the Sir Creek estuary, in salty marshland to the south.

The South Asian neighbors are holding a series of talks on outstanding disputes as part of a comprehensive peace process after nearly six decades of hostility. But progress has been slow with the two sides still far apart over the main bone of contention, control of the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The talks have coincided with an intensification of the conflict in Kashmir, where Muslim militants are fighting Indian rule with clandestine support from Pakistan.

Yesterday, Indian police said 15 people -- seven militants, five soldiers and three civilians -- had been killed in a series of clashes across the troubled Himalayan state.

In New Delhi, officials wrapped up two days of talks over the Sir Creek estuary in the Rann of Kutch, between India's western state of Gujarat and Pakistan's southern Sind province.

A joint statement said the two sides had enjoyed a useful exchange of views in "a frank and friendly atmosphere," agreed to continue talks at a later date and said that "an early resolution of the issue would be in the interests of both countries."

India claims that the boundary should lie in the middle of the 100km estuary, basing its claim on accepted practice as well as pillars built down the middle of part of the channel during British colonial rule.

Pakistan says the border should lie on the southeastern bank of the creek, basing its claim on a line shown on a map drawn up by the British governor of Bombay in the early 20th century.

The dispute has prevented the two sides agreeing on their maritime boundaries and hampered offshore exploration in an area thought to hold oil and gas deposits.

"It is hurting both countries economically and in international prestige," retired Indian admiral J.G. Nadkarni wrote in a recent article. "Both are unable to explore for oil in the vicinity of the undemarcated border and fishermen stray across the line quite unaware of where the boundary lies."

The two sides must submit their maritime boundaries to the UN by 2009 in order to claim exclusive economic rights over waters 350km offshore, as part of international efforts to demarcate the continental shelf.