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Truce on lips but guns at ready

Adampur (Malda), Aug. 21: The tension is still there, but not the firefight.

Both the Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles opted for truce at the flag meeting held here this morning.

The exchange of fire between the two border forces in the Adampur-Muchia area, 18 km from Malda town, began on Friday over the Bangladesh irrigation department’s refusal to stop anti-erosion work on the banks of the Mahananda at zero point. The gunbattle had left two children injured.

Although BSF officers today said the talks had been “amicable”, residents of the border villages remain tense about the truce as the BSF jawans are still holed up in their trenches.

Sources said there were heated exchanges at the flag meeting over who initiated the firefight. The meeting, which was held at the deputy inspector-general level, began at 9 am near the Muchia border outpost of the BSF ' in Indian territory ' on the banks of the Mahananda.

Around 9 am, a mechanised boat arrived near the Muchia outpost. There were eight officers on board from the BDR’s Gilabari outpost. The Bangladesh team was led by the BDR’s area commandant of the Rajshahi sector (equivalent to a DIG), J. Rehman Khan.

The BDR brought with them a large bouquet and gifts. Sources present at the meeting said the BSF officers accepted the flowers, but refused the “other packets”.

The BSF deputy inspector-general, Malda range, Om Prakash Gaur, said: “The meeting ended amicably. It was decided that the anti-erosion work would be carried out by the Indian irrigation department.”

The deputy inspector-general of police, Malda range, B. N. Ramesh, also came here in the morning ' just as the flag meeting ended ' with district police superintendent Dilip Mondol.

Ramesh said there had been no exchange of fire in the Adampur-Muchia area after noon today. “The villagers have been asked to return to their houses. The district administration will send a detailed report to the state police headquarters in Calcutta.”

Gaur said the BDR had been told why it is possible for the Indian side, and not Bangladesh, to carry out the anti-erosion work. “We will not be violating any norms. But if they carry on with their work, they will have to do it within 150 metres of the international border. In that case, it has to be referred to the Joint Review Committee of the two countries,” Gaur said. He added that the jawans would not be withdrawn as yet.

Union water resources minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said in Calcutta today that he would lead a team for the proposed talks on water-sharing ' scheduled to be held at the end of this month ' only after Delhi takes stock of the development across the border. Expressing concern over the exchange of fire, the minister said: “I am going to take it up with the Union home minister and the minister-in-charge of external affairs.”

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