Thousands celebrate historic India-Bangladesh border pact

Dhaka: Thousands living near the Bangladesh-India border celebrated today an historic agreement that will allow them to choose their nationality after decades of stateless limbo.

Poor villagers living in border enclaves waved Bangladeshi flags, held street parades and broke down in tears after Saturday's ratification of the deal covering parts of the border along India's eastern flank.

"I have never dreamt that I would live to see myself become a citizen of any country," said Moinul Haq, who lives
in one of the Indian enclaves inside Bangladeshi territory.

"We have finally tasted freedom after 68 years," he said by phone, bursting into tears as he joined a "victory
procession" of more than 1,000 members of his Boshpechai-Bhitokuti enclave.

Similar celebrations were held in other enclaves, said Golam Mostofa, general secretary of an association of
enclaves.

"All of us are now Bangladeshi citizens. Our pains and decades of frustrations are over. We're now liberated and can
now claim citizenship rights. The enclaves will now have schools, clinics and government offices," Mostofa said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the pact with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in a ceremony on
Saturday, the highlight of his two-day visit to India's closest ally.

Around 50,000 people are thought to live in the "islands" and lack many basic services such as schools, clinics and
utilities because they are cut off from their national governments.

Under the agreement each country will assume sovereignty over all enclaves in its territory. Residents will be allowed either to stay put or to move across the border. The enclaves will effectively cease to exist.

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