NEW DELHI, Sept 29, Reuter: India and Bangladesh, after years of wrangling, agreed on Thursday to unite to seek a way of controlling annual floods that devastate both countries.

A statement issued after more than six hours of talks between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Bangladesh President Hossein Mohammed Ershad said they agreed to set up a joint task force to recommend solutions within six months.

Floods have killed more than 2,600 people in Bangladesh in recent weeks and hundreds more in India.

Indian officials described the agreement as a breakthrough. Ershad had proposed a region wide attempt at controlling Monsoon swollen rivers that rage down from. The Himalayas but New Delhi rejected such a move.

“They have come off that high horse of theirs of blaming India for everything,” a senior Indian Official said.

The agreement is to study how to control the waters of both the mighty Brahmaputra and the smaller Ganges which flow through both countries.

The official said Bangladesh had previously argued that the Ganges was the problem and India should solve it.

“That was not pressed. They didn’t make an issue of it,” he said. “They have accepted that it is a problem of both river systems and not just ours.”

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters the task force would study an Indian proposal made 10 years ago for three dams on the Brahmaputra in Northeast India and a 324Km (200mile) canal across Bangladesh to link up with the Ganges.

Bangladesh, which had rejected the plan, had now agreed to study it. In turn Ershad had proposed a 125km (80 mile) canal which would use up less fertile land his impoverished country badly needs.

The spokesman said the two sides disagreed over how much agricultural land the longer canal would displace. He said India put the figure at 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), while Dhaka calculated it would use up 250,000 hectares (600,000 acres).

The proposed measures would not only control flood waters, but store water for irrigation in the December May dry season. Sharing of waters in current dams has long been a problem.

The senior official said much remained to be done before final plans were agreed.

“But the issues are much, much clearer now,” he said.

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