Nehru park, Gandhi hospital soon in Khartoum

New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) Sudan, the north African country Indian troops fought to liberate during World War II, will soon get a park and a hospital named after Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi in its capital Khartoum, the country's envoy here has said, adding that an Indian bank should quickly be opened in his country to boost trade.

"Sudan has donated land in Khartoum for creating a public park to be named after Jawaharlal Nehru. Like in Delhi, there will be a Nehru Park in Khartoum as a symbol of Indo-Sudanese friendship. There will also be a private hospital in Khartoum named after Mahatma Gandhi," Ambassador Hassan El Talib told IANS in an interview here.

This will help build on the ties between the two countries that have existed since the Nilotic and Indus Valley Civilisations of 5,000 years ago, the envoy added.

He recalled that in 1935, Mahatma Gandhi stopped over in Port Sudan on his way to England by boat and was welcomed by the Indian community there.

And, at the 1955 Bandung Conference, the delegation from a still-not-independent Sudan did not have a flag to mark its place. Taking out his handkerchief, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote "Sudan" on it, thus reserving a place for the country in the international community.

India's National Defence Academy (and its Sudan block) is partly funded with a gift of 100,000 pounds from a grateful Sudanese government in recognition of the sacrifices of Indian troops in the country's liberation during the North African Campaign of World War II.

The envoy said India should quickly open a bank branch in his country to push trade.

"I urge the government to speedily open a bank branch in Sudan so that the actual value of our bilateral trade is reflected in the respective countries and its full benefits accrue to both countries," El Talib said.

The official figure of bilateral trade - around $1.2 billion in 2011-2012 - did not reflect the actual volumes of $4-6 billion because of transactions made through third country banks, the envoy pointed out.

"The official trade figures do not reflect the real value of transactions. Commercial traders are unable to use direct banking services, so they route payments through banks in Britain, Belgium or Saudi Arabia," El Talib said.

Pointing out that Sudan was an important exporter of agricultural and mineral resources, he said that India should have a bank in place in Sudan otherwise it was impacting negatively on bilateral trade.

Indian companies currently doing business in Sudan include state-run BHEL in the power sector, oil and gas explorer ONGC and Bajaj, Tata and Mahindra from the private sector. Besides, various Indian pharmaceutical companies also operate in Sudan.

According to the Sudanese ambassador, it is mostly the country's hydrocarbon exports to India that are reflected in the trade figures, as the commerce in other resources is routed through third country banks.

A country endowed with the Blue Nile and the White Nile rivers, Sudan is the world's largest exporter of long staple cotton and boasts of Africa's largest livestock population.

"Sudan is open to investment by Indian companies in its agriculture. There are many Indians involved in small-scale farming in Sudan. Our country has more than 100 million hectares available for farming, the majority of which is not utilized. Only around 20 percent has been utilized," Talib told IANS.

Also, as a major source of minerals like gold, chromium, iron ore, gypsum and zinc, Sudan is the largest economy of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) comprising eight east African nations, including South Sudan. Sudan is also part of the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

"We want India to take part in the new opportunities opening out within regional economic groupings in Africa like COMESA," El Talib said.

The ambassador said Sudan also wants that India, as a historical ally, be part of the post-conflict rehabilitation in the region. A new country, South Sudan, came into being after a referendum in Sudan in 2011, after a period of internal conflict.

However, South Sudan with about 75 percent of the oil and gas resources of undivided Sudan, came into being as a landlocked country, and by an agreement with Sudan, the oil flows to the north for refining and export from Sudan's Red Sea coast.

(Biswajit Choudhury can be contacted at biswajit.c@ians.in)

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