The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Border force calls for rule recast
- BSF wants work permit along frontier

March 29: Unnerved by yesterday's killing of two villagers by the Bangladesh Rifles, the Border Security Force (BSF) today said it would ask the government to amend the border rules which now prohibit any sort of activity within 150 yards of the zero line.

The force is trying to undergo an image change and present a more people-friendly face following allegations that it opens fire on innocent people and passes them off as smugglers or criminals from across the border.

BSF officials and their Bangladeshi counterparts held a flag-meeting last night following the border skirmish. The BDR opened fire on a group of men from Cooch Behar's Mekhliganj subdivision who were engaged in road repair along the border.

Two persons were killed on the spot while four others are nursing their wounds at the Jalpaiguri district hospital. One of the injured, Abdul Jabbar Ali, had to be shifted in a serious condition to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri.

This evening, the BDR returned the body of Jasimuddin, one of those killed.

BSF inspector-general S.R. Tewari told The Telegraph that according to the existing border guidelines, framed in 1975, no work having defence potential should be taken up within 150 yards of the international border.

'This guideline should be changed immediately. We want a guideline, which will allow people on the Indian side to undertake activities, without consulting the BDR, even within 150 yards of the international border,' he said.

Tewari visited Jamaldahabalapukuri in Cooch Behar this morning to assess the situation. Describing the BDR's action as 'inhuman', he said: 'We want to keep friendly ties with our counterparts on the other side, but they should not consider this gesture as a sign of our weakness.'

He said he has already ordered his men to establish a border outpost in the village where the incident took place yesterday. There is already a similar outpost at Jhakabari, about 1.5 km from the spot, he added.

Tewari also referred to a similar incident in the recent past when the BDR had opened fire on civilians near the border area at Kishanganj. The victims there were also engaged in some development work on the riverbed. Luckily, there were no casualties.

BSF additional deputy inspector-general (Central), S.S. Sandhu, however, said the BDR had misinterpreted the guideline.

He said: 'Construction of roads is not defence-oriented. The guideline does not stop development work even within 150 yards of the border.'

'The time is ripe for a complete change in the guidelines so that the BDR cannot interfere in any activity inside Indian territory,' Sandhu added. There was an uneasy calm at Jamaldahabalapukuri with villagers not venturing out. People huddled in groups talked in hushed tones.

'I was nearly dragged off by the BDR during yesterday's firing. There were about 15 BDR personnel along with 45 Bangladeshis. They also broke into Hamidul Rehman's house and injured him,' recalled Farza Bibi, an eyewitness to yesterday's incident.

Mohammed Asadul Zaman, 20, who was injured when a bullet grazed his leg, said: 'The BSF took some time in arriving. By that time the BDR had attacked us and retreated.' Zaman was later treated at the subdivisional hospital at Mathabhanga in Cooch Behar.

Throughout the day, however, no BDR personnel were seen patrolling their side of the border.

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