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Bangladesh, India to begin exchange enclaves at midnight tonight

Staff Reporter |
Inserted: 11:20, Friday 31 July 2015 || Updated: 09:31, Saturday 01 August 2015

Bangladesh, India to begin exchange enclaves at midnight tonight - National

Dhaka: Bangladesh and India will finally swap tiny islands of land, ending one of the world's most difficult border disputes that has kept thousands of people in stateless limbo for almost 70 years.

At one minute past midnight on Friday, some 50,000 residents along the border will light candles and celebrate their "new found freedom" following a historic deal sealed between the two countries' prime ministers.

A Home Ministry release said that all Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh will become land of Bangladesh while Bangladeshi enclaves inside India will be considered as Indian land from July 31 midnight.

Dwellers of 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh land, except who wished to be Indian citizens, will be provided Bangladeshi citizenship while dwellers of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves inside Indian land will be considered as Indian citizens.

A land ministry gazette notification would be issued shortly marking out the newly integrated and excluded land in Bangladesh in the enclave area.

Bangladeshi national flag will be hoisted at newly included lands of 111 enclaves in the dawn of August 1, 2015.

"The 68 candles mark our 68 years of endless pain since 1947 and the agonies and poverty we faced living in no-man's land," said Golam Mostafa, who lives in an Indian enclave in the Bangladesh district of Kurigram.

Mostafa and other residents of the 162 enclaves -- small pockets of one country's territory surrounded by the other -- lack basic services such as schools, clinics, power and water because they are cut off from their national governments.

Under the agreement finalised in June and coming into effect Friday, the "islands" will effectively cease to exist, as each country will assume sovereignty over all enclaves in its territory.

Residents can choose to live in India or Bangladesh and will be granted citizenship. They can stay put or choose to move across the 4,000-kilometre (2,500 mile) long border.

Officials of both nations this month conducted surveys, asking residents to choose a country.

"The overwhelming majority of people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh opted for Bangladeshi citizenship," Habibur Rahman, a Bangladesh government coordinator of the survey.

But nearly 1,000 people on the Bangladesh side opted to keep their Indian nationalities, meaning they will leave their homes -- and for some their relatives -- for India where they will be resettled by the state of West Bengal.

Mofiz Uddin is one of them.

"I have been working in brick fields [kilns] in the Indian state of Rajasthan for more than two decades. The salary is twice what I used to get in Bangladesh," said the 45-year-old.

"I know I may not see some of my close relatives again. But what could I do? I've already taken my wife and three children there."

In India, all of the Bangladeshis living in the 51 Bangladesh enclaves decided to switch nationalities.

"They are happy here. They're an integral part of Indian society," said Diptiman Sengupta, of the India-Bangladesh enclave exchange coordination committee, a citizens group.

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