The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Schools shut after border build-up

Silchar, July 26: The Border Security Force today reported a “massive” military build-up by Bangladesh on a stretch of the international border in south Assam and ordered the closure of schools all along that frontier.

Commandant Biplab Sengupta, whose battalion patrols the 32-km danger stretch, told the media that Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troops had built bunkers just across the Kathigorah sector, in Cachar district, and were trying to “provoke” his men. Describing the situation as “war-like”, he said bunkers were visible all along the stretch from Amulshid to Beyabail villages, just across the border.

Sengupta said two armoured vehicles had been requisitioned for patrolling.

Last month, BSF and BDR troops exchanged mortar and machine-gun fire along the same stretch and some defence “fortifications” on the other side were destroyed. The skirmish was restricted to a site between Harinagar and Chandinagar villages, both on this side of the border.

A flag meeting between senior officials of the border forces was held a few days later and both sides ostensibly agreed not to provoke each other, Sengupta said.

The security set-up along the entire eastern frontier was recently rejigged with a record number of BSF battalions being deployed. Sources said battalion commanders had been authorised to open fire in retaliatory action without waiting for orders from New Delhi.

The decision to give battalion commanders the authority to take retaliatory action flows from the army’s experience along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir before the ceasefire with Pakistan began in 2003.

However, Sengupta said the BSF would try its best to “keep peace and observe restraint” along the Kathigorah sector.

The BSF commandant claimed that a BDR unit had been specifically assigned to provide cover to Bangladeshi farmers cultivating paddy on a 200-bigha plot belonging to India, but under “adverse possession” of that country.

Indications of the military build-up across the border and the BSF’s directive to temporarily shut down schools have already triggered an exodus from some border villages. Police confirmed that many families from Kathigorah block had shifted women and children to other places, apprehending a full-blown clash between the border forces.

BSF sources said two more battalions would be moved to the south Assam sectors soon. There are three battalions at present in the south Assam districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. The additional battalions will be under the command of an inspector-general. Overall, the deployment of the BSF along the 4,095-km border has been doubled from 39 to 79 battalions.

Each BSF battalion has roughly 800 soldiers.

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