27 April 2001
The Times of India
Bangladesh blames BSF, seeks end to border row
By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service
DHAKA: More than a week after the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) surrounded the BSF
post in Pyrudwah - thereby setting in motion a tragic sequence of events
leading to the death of 19 jawans - Bangladeshi officials say they are
bewildered by the fact that India allowed a ``routine boundary dispute'' on the
Meghalaya border to degenerate into a bloody battle some 300 km away.
The official line here is that all the BDR did was to gherao the BSF post in
protest at the construction of a road. The post, they say, lies wholly inside
Bangladeshi territory and that at no point did the BDR cross the border. ``I
want to emphasise that the post was surrounded only from three sides. The BSF
men continued to get supplies throughout the stand-off.'' Foreign Secretary
Syed Muazzem Ali told The Times of India. ``But what the BSF did at Roumari was
to cross the border. They were killed at least one kilometre inside territory
that even India does not dispute is Bangladeshi.''
Told the BSF disputes the claim that it was building a road, Ali said that even
if the BDR had acted wrongly by surrounding the post, ``the matter could have
been settled at either the regional commander level, DG level - or even the
political level, if the BSF felt the BDR was just not listening.'' Instead, he
said, the first formal communication from the Indian government came in the
form of an aide memoire that was handed over to the Bangladeshi high
commissioner in New Delhi on the morning of April 18, four days after the BDR
had moved. ``The BDR's bravado is one thing,'' he said, ``but why did you not
tell us right away that your men are encircled and let us end this situation
Ali said that what his government finds quite incomprehensible is that rather
than push for a swift, negotiated end to the Pyrduwah stand-off, India decided
to up the ante elsewhere. ``The problem was at Padua,'' he said, using the
Bangladeshi name for the village which straddles the border. ``What was the
need to open another front?''
Denying that his ministry had any prior knowledge of the action the BDR took at
Pyrduwah, Ali said: "Look, our border is more than 4,000 km long. It's a
complex, messy border, with enclaves, undemarcated stretches, changing river
courses, adverse possessions. In any given week, there are loads of small local
disputes that come up, most of which we don't even get to hear of at the
ministry because they are settled at various levels by the two border forces.
Don't forget that even Pyrduwah was settled in that way. We ended our gherao
and the BSF agreed to demolish the road. It's only the Indian intrusion at
Roumari which blew the whole matter up and led to the violence.''
Though Ali said Dhaka was investigating India's allegations that some of the
slain BSF men might have been tortured or killed in custody, ``the Indian
government should also inquire into who authorised the BSF intrusion at
Roumari''. Indeed, during her phone conversation with Prime Minister Vajpayee
on Sunday night in which she expressed her ``deep shock and grief at the
unneccessary and unavoidable loss of lives on both the sides,'' Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina also asked Vajpayee to ``investigate and find out the detailed
position about (the Roumari) incident".
Now that this very, very sad incident is over, the Foreign Secretary said, it
is essential that we get back to our excellent relations. More than anything,
he said, the previous week's events highlight the urgency of India and
Bangladesh resolving their border disputes. ``India has a border with 11
countries, so I can understand that settling the Bangladesh border is not a
priority,'' he said. ``But please remember that if you ignore the small strip
of land we share with Mynamar, our only border is with India. Naturally, we are
more interested in settling the issue quickly.''