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Border forces push back & forth

Jan. 31: The Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles today came close to a face-off as both forces tried to “push back” more than 230 people across the Indo-Bangladesh border in south and north Bengal.

The BSF jawans stopped 213 alleged Bangladeshis when the BDR was trying to herd them into India at Satgachi in Cooch Behar district. Conversely, the BDR personnel prevented 26 Bangladesh nationals, who had been picked up in Delhi and taken to the border by the BSF today, from crossing over at Phulbari in Nadia district.

Tension erupted when the border guards on both sides went on high alert. As both sides reportedly despatched reinforcements, BSF officials camping in the area said they were trying to avert what could become an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

The stand-off could not have come at a worse time when diplomatic relations between the neighbours have plunged to an all-time low, with Delhi accusing Dhaka of harbouring ISI-backed militants sneaking into India to create disturbance.

A senior BSF official, based in the force’s north Bengal frontier headquarters in Kadamtala near Siliguri, said the jawans spotted the BDR personnel chasing a total of 213 Bangladeshis into India at Satgachi in the Mathabhanga sub-division of Cooch Behar district. “We foiled the attempt immediately.”

Among those crossing over were 65 women and 80 children. Under interrogation, they admitted that they belonged to the snake-charmer community from Saulchamari on the outskirts of Dhaka, BSF officials said. They remained on no-man’s land after the BSF refused to let them in.

Official sources said police in Delhi had picked up a total of 56 Bangladeshis and brought them to Sealdah on a train early this morning. After they were handed over to the BSF, they were taken straight to the border in Nadia.

While 30 of them managed to slink into Bangladesh, the BDR personnel caught the others. But as they tried to “push them back” into India, the BSF protested, accusing the BDR of refusing to take back their own nationals.

With both forces refusing to budge, the 26 Bangladeshis, including nine women and six children, were sheltered in a bamboo grove on no-man’s land. The Bangladeshis told the police that they had gone to Delhi in search of livelihood from Moralganj in Bangladesh’s Khulna district about 10 years ago. They were mostly employed as domestic help and gardeners in the capital.

While those intercepted in Satgachi were left to fend for themselves on no-man’s land, Phulbari residents forced the authorities to let the 26 people take shelter in their village for the night. Among them were 22-year-old Rina Akhtar and her three small children. One of them was one-and-a-half-month old and ailing. The mother had no idea how to nurse the infant.

“We have contacted the BSF and senior district officials to provide help to these stranded people on humanitarian grounds,” block development officer of Karimpur-I Prashanta Bagchi said.

Mamata Bibi, one of those on the no man’s land at Satgachi, said: “I don’t know why we were stopped from entering our own country.”

Mathabhanga sub-divisional officer Amiya Biswas said the administration was trying to “sort out” the issue at the government level.

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