Feb. 6: Around 11 last night, Bangladesh foreign minister Mohd Morshed Khan spoke to his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha.
This morning, when Border Security Force personnel manning the area at Satgachhi in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district — where 213 nomads had been stranded since Friday in no man’s land between India and Bangladesh — trudged up to the border, they were astounded to find a vast emptiness specked by blue plastic sheets and left-behind personal belongings.
Some time after midnight and before the first rays of the sun, the snake charmers and their families, who formed the group of 213, had disappeared, taking the reptiles with them.
An inspector of the BSF’s intelligence branch said: “We don’t know when and how they went. But they have gone inside Bangladesh. We have nothing to worry about now.”
All that the BSF could say was that it believed the group left in the dense early-morning fog.
The six-day dispute over the nomads’ identity had poisoned Dhaka-Delhi relations. Announcing the end of the standoff, BSF inspector-general, north frontier, K.C. Sharma said: “Early this morning, BSF personnel discovered footprints leading into Bangladesh. The group had disappeared leaving behind much of their belongings.”
In Dhaka, Bangladesh foreign secretary Shamsher M. Chowdhury, however, said the government had “no evidence or information” that the people had entered Bangladesh. Sharma replied to this, saying: “They are lying. The official statement is nothing but a last-ditch face-saving effort. But the truth is known to the whole world.”
The Indians apparently wanted the group to walk into Bangladesh in the presence of the media, but this was not acceptable to the other side.
“We just now received an intelligence report, which said that the BDR has escorted the nomadic group to Pattgaon village in Lalmonihat district, some 8 km inside Bangladesh. We are relieved to learn that these unfortunate people will now find some shelter there. They had spent six miserable nights under the open sky in no man’s land,” Sharma said.
Although the crisis has blown over, it is clear Delhi will keep its eyes peeled on “illegal immigrants”. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said: “The problem of illegal immigration needs to be resolved… the government has taken certain decisions. We are taking important steps to implement them.”
The issue could be on top of the agenda when Morshed Khan arrives in Delhi on Monday.
Morshed will lead a delegation that includes senior officials of the Bangladesh interior ministry and agencies involved in border management.
At the talks, the two sides will try and iron out differences over what India calls illegal immigration and how the two sides can avoid recurring of the Satgachhi standoff.