| The injured at the hospital. (Inset) The wife of Mohammad Manglu who died after he was brought to the hospital. Pictures by Biplab Basak
March 28: At least two persons were killed and four others were injured when Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel opened fire on unarmed villagers engaged in repairing a road near the Indo-Bangla border at Jamaldahabalapukuri, around 70 km from Cooch Behar town, this afternoon.
The arrival of a large contingent of the Border Security Force (BSF) two hours later did little to diffuse the simmering tension that gripped the border hamlet in the Mekhliganj police station area. Police said most of the villagers have fled for fear of the BDR.
Reports on the number of deaths are conflicting as the figures released by the police is one more than those put out by the BSF. Senior BSF officials have put the toll at two. Four of the injured have been admitted to the district hospital in Jalpaiguri.
Cooch Behar police superintendent Jagmohan said the injured were first taken to the subdivisional hospital in Mekhliganj, 15 km from Jamaldahabalapukuri, and later shifted to Jalpaiguri.
Police said two unidentified persons died on the spot. The third, identified as 50-year-old Mohammad Manglu, died at the Jalpaiguri hospital in the evening.
Mustafa Hussain, 18, Abdul Jabbar Ali, 65, Hamidul Islam, 28, and Jamilur Hussain, 25, are the others who have been admitted with bullet injuries.
Subdivisional officer of Mekhliganj Gurudas Sarkar said the body of Jasimuddin, 40, which was taken away by the BDR, will be handed over to the BSF tomorrow.
Dhirendranath Roy, one of the men accompanying the injured to Jalpaiguri, said about 100 men were levelling a kutcha road along the border under the Sampurna Grameen Rozgar Yojna.
'The work was being supervised by the Kuchlibari gram panchayat (see map). Suddenly, the BDR asked the men to stop working. That was in the morning. The Bangla force then had a discussion with the BSF and work resumed. But in the afternoon, there was a change in shift and the new group of BDR personnel entered into an altercation with the workers. They even beat them up with lathis and then suddenly started firing,' Roy said. 'They fired on unarmed people.'
'What worries us is that despite the BSF outpost located nearby, we feel insecure,' Roy said.
S.S. Sandhu, the additional deputy inspector-general of the BSF, when contacted in Siliguri, said the border force has already registered its protest against the unprovoked firing.
'We have already held one flag meeting with the BDR at the spot. We have also deployed jawans in the area so that the BDR does not cause any more problems for villagers. Our men from Jhikabari reached the spot soon after the incident,' Sandhu said.
The BSF official put the death toll to two. He said one person had died on the spot and the other at the Jalpaiguri hospital.
Jalpaiguri MP Minati Sen visited the injured at the hospital, where she met the shocked wife and son of Mohammad Manglu, who were sitting on the floor and crying. 'Parliament is no longer in session, but I will write to the Union home minister complaining about this heinous crime committed by the BDR,' Sen said.
Sarkar and other senior officials from the Cooch Behar district administration had left for the spot in the afternoon.