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Indian Army Chief Gen MM Naravane begins 3-day Nepal visit

KATHMANDU (PTI): Army Chief Gen MM Naravane is arriving in Nepal on Wednesday on a three-day crucial visit, which Indian officials in Kathmandu say will deepen the long-standing bonds of friendship between the two armies and provide an opportunity for both sides to explore avenues to further strengthen bilateral defence partnership for mutual benefit.

Naravane's visit is largely aimed at resetting relations with the Himalayan nation after the ties came under severe strain following a bitter border row.

Gen Naravane is visiting Nepal at the official invitation of Nepal Army chief Gen Purnachandra Thapa.

Indian Embassy spokesperson Naveen Kumar said that Gen Naravane's visit "will deepen the long-standing and customary bonds of friendship between the two armies."

His visit will provide an opportunity for both sides to discuss the bilateral defence partnership and explore avenues to further strengthen it for mutual benefit.

Gen Naravane will pay homage at the martyrs' memorial at the Army Pavilion on Thursday morning and receive a guard of honour at the Nepal Army headquarters, according to Nepal Army sources.

He will hold formal talks with his Nepalese counterpart at the Nepal Army headquarters on Thursday.

Mutual interests between the two armies and bilateral relations will mainly feature during the talk, Nepal Army sources said.

The Indian Army chief will also gift an ambulance and medical equipment for a mobile field hospital to be operated by the Nepal Army.

He will also hold interaction with senior officials at the Nepal Army headquarters.

In the afternoon, the Indian Army chief will be conferred with the honorary rank of General of Nepal Army by President Bidya Devi Bhandari amidst a special ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

He will also pay a courtesy call on President Bhandari after the ceremony. Gen Naravane will attend a dinner reception hosted by Nepal Army chief at Nepal Army headquarters.

Gen Naravane will address the student officers at the Army Command and Staff College at Shivapuri, in the outskirts of Kathmandu on Friday morning.

In the afternoon, Gen Naravane will meet Prime Minister and Defence Minister K P Sharma Oli at the Prime Minister's Official Residence at Baluwatar before wrapping up his visit.

"I am delighted to be visiting Nepal on their kind invitation and to meet my counterpart Gen Purna Chandra Thapa, Chief of the Army Staff of the Nepali Army. I am sure this visit will go a long way in strengthening the bonds of friendship that the two armies cherish," Gen Naravane said in New Delhi ahead of the visit.

The Chief of Army Staff said he was also grateful for the opportunity to call on Prime Minister Oli.

India's decision to send the Army Chief to Nepal to reset the ties is seen as part of a larger exercise by New Delhi to rejuvenate relations with Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan in the wake of greater efforts by China to expand its influence in the region.

The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand on May 8.

Nepal protested the inauguration of the road claiming that it passed through its territory. Days later, Nepal came out with the new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territories.

After Nepal released the map, India reacted sharply, calling it a "unilateral act" and cautioning Kathmandu that such "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.

In June, Nepal's Parliament approved the new political map of the country featuring areas which India maintains belong to it.

In its reaction after Nepal's lower house of parliament approved the bill, India termed as untenable the "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims by the neighbouring country.

India said Nepal's action violates an understanding reached between the two countries to resolve the boundary issues through talks.

Nepal Prime Minister Oli has been asserting that Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura belong to Nepal and vowed to "reclaim" them from India.

The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India.

Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory – India as part of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district.

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