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Russia and China agree to reduce border forces

After seven years of talks, involving 22 meetings, China, Russia and three other former Soviet republics have finally reached agreement on reducing military forces along their borders. The troop-reduction pact is likely to be signed next April,when China's President, Jiang Zemin, will make a state visit to Moscow.

Yesterday's agreement was negotiated in Peking but coincided with a meeting in Moscow between the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Peng, and the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will be the other nations signatory to the treaty. No detail was available yesterday on the number of troops involved.

China and the former Soviet republics share a border of more than 2,500 miles which during the Sixties saw clashes between the world's two biggest Communist powers. Most of the disputes on border demarcation were settled five years ago, but the issue of troop reduction has proved more intractable.

Last April, during a visit by President Yeltsin to Peking, the five nations signed a confidence-building treaty under which they must inform each other about military manoeuvres near the border, and in which they promise not to attack each other.

Agreement was also reached to set up a hotline between Peking and Moscow.

Sino-Russian ties are at their most cordial for decades. Both sides want to see expanded trade and economic links, including Russian arms sales to China.

Mr Li went on to meet the Russian Prime Minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, and the two leaders signed a number of deals, ranging from the supply of Russian military aircraft and building a nuclear power station in China to an accord between the two countries' central banks.

Both Moscow and Peking also regard each other as dip-lomatic ballast to counterbalance the bilateral relations of each country with the United States.

For Mr Yeltsin, yesterday provided the first opportunity since recovery from his heart bypass operation to resume meetings with foreign leaders.

Television reports showed the Russian leader looking reasonably fit and well, greeting Mr Li warmly.

"I am very pleased with the course of events," a thinner but apparently healthier Mr Yeltsin said in brief remarks broadcast on television.

Mr Li and Mr Cherno- myrdin agreed to meet each other twice a year to monitor progress on building up trade and diplomatic relations.

"We laid a good foundation for the next century and the next millennium," Interfax news agency quoted Mr Cherno-myrdin as saying.