New Delhi/Calcutta, Oct. 28: Fresh tension between India and Bangladesh surfaced today following allegations of exchange of fire between the Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles over the nationality of nearly 300 villagers.
Bangladesh said the BSF fired more than 4,000 rounds in its bid to 'push in' Indian Muslims across the border at Berubari in Jalpaiguri district. It also alleged that the Indian force 'rounded up' a few hundred villagers to push them into Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jaipur and Jessore.
The BSF denied the charges. Additional director-general S.I.S. Ahmed said it was the BDR which opened fire on BSF personnel on Tuesday.
The crossfire added an edge to the already tense bilateral relations. In Dhaka, Indian deputy high commissioner Sharbajeet Chakraborti was summoned by the foreign office this afternoon where director-general, South Asia, Fazlur Karim handed him an aide-memoire expressing the Bangladeshi government's displeasure.
In Calcutta, the BSF's Ahmed said: 'The firing, which we have estimated was around 350 rounds approximately from automatic weapons, was totally unprovoked. Later, the BDR cooked up the story that the BSF was trying to push Indian nationals into Bangladesh.'
BSF officials said the BDR, for the past few months, has been resisting their efforts to push back Bangladeshis who have crossed over to India. The stand-off climaxed a week ago when the BDR claimed that a group of 26 was not Bangladeshi.
'It is most unfortunate that they (Bangladesh) have refused to take back their own citizens,' Ahmed said. The firing and the subsequent blame on the BSF, he added, were planned to 'divert attention from the problem of infiltration'.
BSF officials said the firing took place at three border outposts of the BDR, all in Rangpur district. 'Our men' had a miraculous escape. We could distinctly hear shots from automatic weapons,' a senior official said.
Indian foreign ministry sources said the tension surfaced when a group of Bangladeshis, trying to go back for Id, was allowed to return by the BSF. 'As they had entered India illegally, no attempt was made (to stop them) when they were trying to return to their country,' an official said.
The controversy, a few days before Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan's visit to India, however, appears to have given an additional talking point to the two sides. Khan is scheduled to arrive in Delhi on October 31 for talks with the Indian leadership.
In Calcutta, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call for 'joint or coordinated action' with neighbouring countries to flush out insurgents.
'Our neighbouring countries have been harbouring insurgent groups all along,' he said. 'India cannot tolerate this for very long.'