Malda/Dhaka, Feb. 27: The Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles traded fire at Mahedipur for nearly eight hours today in one of the worst border flare-ups in recent times.
The firing broke out as smugglers tried to push in a herd of camels into Bangladesh. Two camels were wounded in the skirmish but no human casualties were reported.
The firing comes when relations between the neighbours have hit a low, with New Delhi and Dhaka accusing each other of trying to push in illegal migrants.
Local border commanders of the two countries held two rounds of talks later in the day to ease the tension.
BSF deputy inspector-general R. Chanda said the smugglers were trying to take the camels across the border early in the morning. The men apparently fled after the BDR personnel ordered them to stop, leaving the camels on no-man’s land.
The BDR personnel opened fire when the BSF jawans tried to bring the camels back. “Our jawans fired back after they were shot at. The attack on our men was sudden and unprovoked,” Chanda said.
The BSF official accused the “low-ranking” BDR personnel of being in cahoots with the smugglers, a charge the Bangladeshi border force denied.
A BDR official, on the other hand, accused the BSF of helping the camel smugglers. Bangladesh recently placed its border guards on alert after India announced plans to deport illegal Bangladeshi migrants living or working in the country.
The two countries intensified border security along the Hili frontier in South Dinajpur where a family of six men, women and children has been stranded for more than a week. The BSF deported the six “illegal migrants”, but the Bangladeshi border guards refused to accept them.
Deputy inspector-general of police (headquarters) N.C. Ghosh said the firing between the Indian and Bangladeshi border guards in Malda went on for nearly eight hours.
Trucks carrying fruits and other foodstuff backed up for miles at the Mahedipur border as the guards exchanged fire till noon. “The BSF shut down the checkpoint as soon as the firing started. Not a single truck crossed the border during the day,” customs officer K.K. Sen said.
BSF personnel kept away curious villagers, drawn by the crack of guns, from the border. “We could not take out our cattle for grazing. The jawans would not let us,” said Ambar Ghosh of neighbouring Piyashbari village.
Residents of the village said they had seen from a distance bodies lying on the no-man’s land. They also pointed to patches of dried-up blood on the stretch, locally known as “zero point”.
BSF personnel dismissed the claim. They said the blood was that of the wounded camels. The sudden flare-up left people from both countries waiting to cross the border stranded. “I am on my way back from Calcutta, where I went for treatment. I don’t know what to do,” said Emtamul Haque of Rajsahi, squatting by the road with his wife and son.