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Border forces clash on and off court

Islampur/Jalpaiguri, March 22: Two faces of conflict between Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) were in evidence on the Indo-Bangladesh border over the past 24 hours.

At Goalgachh under Chopra police station of North Dinajpur district, the two forces exchanged more than 500 rounds of fire from late last night to early this morning. The clash comes at a time when Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is in New Delhi on a three-day state visit.

In Dangapara, located in the Sadar block of Jalpaiguri district, however, the BSF and BDR faced off in a friendly match of volleyball, organised as part of the forces' confidence-building measures.

The Goalgachh conflict began when the BSF prevented the BDR from constructing an embankment on the no-man's land along the Goalgachh, Marichagaachh, Kaliganj and Mufigachh areas on the bank of Kartoa river.

A senior BSF official said they had fired 100 rounds in retaliation to 400 rounds fired by the BDR. A red alert was sounded in the area after the clash and tea garden workers were prevented by the BSF from joining work today on security grounds. Prohibitory orders were imposed on movement of traffic on the border.

The official alleged that the irrigation department of the Bangladesh government was constructing the embankment by placing boulders. 'When we challenged them, the BDR started firing indiscriminately and we retaliated. No casualties have been reported though,' the official said.

Hasmat Ali, a resident of Goalgachh, said he was startled out of his sleep by the sound of firing last night. The tin roof of his house had been pierced by bullets, he said.

Commanding officer of the 32nd Battalion of the BSF R.C. Chowhan said a flag meeting was held this afternoon. 'The BDR told us that the irrigation department had started the work without their consent. They have assured us that it will not be repeated,' he said. Another flag meeting will he held tomorrow.

At Dangapara, the atmosphere was markedly more friendly as a volleyball court was drawn on the zero line near border pillar number 780/MP. 'We organised the match as part of our confidence-building measures,' said Pramod Kumar, the deputy inspector-general of the BSF, Siliguri sector. 'Such matches do improve relations between the forces.'

Led by inspector Kamal Singh, the cadets of the 118 Battalion of the BSF beat the 34 Rifles Battalion of the BDR, led by havildar Farooque, to lift the trophy. 'Such games should be conducted frequently,' said lt col. Saifure Rehman, the commandant of the 34 Rifles of the BDR.

People from both sides of the border crowded the spot, enjoying the game thoroughly as they fluttered national flags and cheered their teams.

Some, like Sahidul Rehman of Adarsha Colony, a small hamlet located close to the pillar in Bangladesh, had come to the site with a different intention. 'My younger sister stays in Haldibari in India. When I heard of the match, I thought of coming here to meet her as usually it is tough for poor people like us to get a passport and collect visa to visit the other side of the border. I was lucky to find her here today,' Sahidul said.

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