A Sashastra Seema Bal jawan on patrol in Kishanganj on Sunday
Patna, Nov. 29: Thirteen Indian guards deployed near the eastern border were detained today by Nepalese police for allegedly entering their territory with weapons, which served to underscore the rapid deterioration in ties between the one-time close neighbours.
Two jawans of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) appeared to have entered Nepal's territory initially in pursuit of a man taking a can of diesel from Kishanganj district in Bihar and bordering Bengal.
Nepal's plains near India have been starved of essential goods because of a blockade by the Madhesi community to protest the new constitution there. Kathmandu suspects an Indian hand in the protests although New Delhi has consistently denied any role.
The detention of the SSB personnel sent the force's frontier headquarters in Patna into a tizzy for about six hours until the men were released.
Around 7am, two SSB jawans of the 12th battalion entered Nepal's Khutamani village while chasing a man carrying the plastic container filled with diesel from Kadubita village in Kishanganj district, around 400km northeast of Patna.
A crowd gathered and Nepal's Armed Police Force detained the two jawans. As news reached the SSB border outpost at Kadubita, 10 jawans led by an officer went to the spot in Nepal to rescue their colleagues. At least four of the Indian jawans were carrying guns and the 10-member squad too was detained.
A team led by the commandant of the 12th battalion of the SSB, D.B. Negi, and Kishanganj sub-divisional police officer Kanchan Bala negotiated with their counterparts in Nepal to ensure the release of the jawans around 1pm.
Kanchan Bala said it took almost three hours to convince their Nepali counterparts to release the jawans. "No officer from India can enter Nepal with firearms. This may have prompted them (Nepal police) to initiate action against the jawans," she said.
Echoing the police officer, Nepal's ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, said in New Delhi that the border guards could enter each other's side but they had to submit all weapons at the border check points.
"But they (the SSB jawans) were there with arms and ammunition," Upadhyay said.
Referring to the allegation of smuggling, the ambassador said: "It is very difficult to say whether they were smugglers or very, very needy. That is why there has to be a very good rapport between the two forces and they have to establish very good communication and avoid these kind of things."
Yesterday, an SSB patrol team had seized around 1,500 litres of diesel allegedly being smuggled out.
In New Delhi, SSB chief B.D. Sharma told PTI that the 13 guards had been freed and "we appreciate the cooperation extended today by our counterparts on the Nepal side".
The detention and release of the jawans come at a time there has been a sharp reversal in India's relations with Nepal in just a year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's twin visits to Nepal in 2014 had seemingly rejuvenated ties, which have since worsened over the constitution adopted by India's neighbour. Matters have come to such a pass that earlier this month, India for the first time clashed with Nepal on a UN platform.
The Madhesi community feels that the delimitation of constituencies under the new constitution will leave it with far fewer seats than its members can win, compared to its 36 per cent population.
The community is also worried about a provision that makes it harder for children of a Nepalese woman married to a foreign man to gain Nepal's citizenship than if the father is Nepalese.
Border protests have blocked a checkpoint responsible for 70 per cent of bilateral trade between the neighbours, which has hurt land-locked Nepal badly and compelled it to strike a deal with China to import oil.