The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No hide-&-seek, Dhaka is taking back 232 fishermen

Calcutta, March 5: This “push-back” promises to be different.

After the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border in Coochbehar over the fate of Bangladeshi nationals staying illegally in India, Dhaka is back to playing the friendly neighbour.

Two hundred and thirty-two Bangladeshi nationals — all of them fishermen who “inadvertently” crossed over to this side of the often-vague border in water — are now set to be taken back by their country.

This comes days after the Coochbehar stand-off fizzled out following the not-so-red-carpet welcome given to Bangladeshi foreign minister Md Morshed Khan. (The visit saw deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani telling him clearly that India could not be expected to carry the burden forever).

“The government-to-government communication was completed on Tuesday,” a senior Bangladeshi deputy high commission official here said. “All of them are going to go back to Bangladesh within this week,” he told The Telegraph.

A cloud still hovers over the fate of 24 others — housed in Presidency Jail like these 232 — but officials appear confident they, too, will be taken back “very soon”. “We have been given to believe that the remaining 24 are going to go be taken back as well in the near future,” a senior state home department official said.

Officials said the nitty-gritty was complete and the Bangladeshis would begin to move either on Thursday or Friday. “They will travel in either two or three phases,” a Bangladeshi diplomat said.

The logistical details were discussed over the past few days and it was decided that one group would travel by water and the rest by land, officials said. “The trawlers and boats with which they were caught on this side of the border have to be taken back as well,” an official explained. “But only the number required to steer the trawlers and boats back to Bangladesh will be going back by the river-route.” The rest will go by road. Details of the two routes have been decided.

Those travelling by boat (or trawler) will board their vessels at Shamshernagar in North 24-Parganas and paddle towards Kaikhali in Satkshira district of Bangladesh. The rest will take the more conventional route from Petrapole, also in North 24-Parganas, to Benapole in Bangladesh.

“The Border Security Force has been told of the shift and asked to stay alert,” a home department official said. “But we don’t expect any problem as far as this round of ‘push-back’ is concerned,” he added.

Like the people going back home, the Presidency Jail administration heaved a sigh of relief. “This prison is overcrowded and has too many important detainees,” jail superintendent S.R. Hussain said. “Keeping so many people, who had no reason to stay here, was a burden on the administration,” he added.

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