Thursday, February 23, 2012

Border firing to go on

Reasserts BSF chief day before home ministers' meeting in Delhi.


Indian Border Security Force chief UK Bansal yesterday reaffirmed that his soldiers at the border with Bangladesh would fire on criminals who dare them, a statement that has already created controversy over border killings.

"If, despite their [BSF personnel] efforts [of exercising restraint], they get into a situation where they are threatened and their lives are in danger, then they will use the force available to them to save their lives or the lives of their companions. That means they will fire," Bansal told Press Trust of India news agency.

According to rights organisation Odhikar, 203 people lost their lives in BSF firing near the border between 2009 and 2011. 

None of the killings occurred in a situation in which the Indian guards' lives were at stake.
Triggering a controversy, Bansal had earlier said firing by BSF along the border with Bangladesh cannot stop completely.

The BSF chief, however, made it clear that firing will be the last resort and that the force has put in a number of measures to avert casualties.

His remarks came a day ahead of a meeting between Home Minister of India P Chidambaram and Bangladesh Home Minister Shahara Khatun. When the two ministers meet, Shahara is expected to raise the issue of BSF firing and killing of Bangladeshi civilians along the border. 

Yesterday the BSF director general said, "They [BSF personnel] will fire with the available weapon... it may be non-lethal, it may be lethal... every patrol company will have both weapons but if a person is under attack and he is holding a rifle, he will fire his rifle.

"Even that firing he will do as far as possible with the intent not to kill but if casualties occur... we will have to tolerate it as an inescapable alternative," he said.

"It gives me no pleasure in killing any civilians. We have the best of relations with Bangladesh. We want to improve those relations... but we certainly cannot sacrifice the lives of our officers and men and we also have to complete our mandate which is border guarding and, therefore, we are trying to strike a difficult balance between completing our task with as little force as possible," Bansal said.

He said the BSF is sending a fresh lot of non-lethal weapons to 23 border posts along the Bangladesh border. However, he claimed that since the time BSF decided to exercise "restraint" while dealing with cross-border movements, criminals have become bold.

"They are coming in larger numbers... sometimes even 300-400 at a time. They are breaching the fence with the confidence that they can get away with it... Cattle smuggling is being attempted with much greater openness," Bansal said.

"Some people say these are cattle traders and that BSF is killing them. My question is what trade is done in the middle of the night? From dusk to dawn, on the entire Bangladesh border we declare curfew and no movement is permitted. Whether Indian or Bangladeshi, he has no business to be there... So, to say that these people are innocent traders is not a very convincing argument," he said. 

The DG said the BSF has asked the Border Guard Bangladesh to ensure strict vigil in vulnerable areas during the nights.

He claimed that since Chidambaram's visit to Bangladesh in July last year and subsequent order to exercise maximum restraint on the Bangladesh border, firing incidents have come down by "about 70 percent".

Meanwhile, Home Minister Shahara Khatun reached New Delhi yesterday afternoon leading a 12-member delegation including Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq A Karim, and Home Secretary Mustaq Ahmed. 

Before the talks with her Indian counterpart, Shahara is expected to call on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence around 10:00am today. 

Home secretaries of the two countries held a preparatory meeting yesterday at the Indian home ministry ahead of the talks between the two home ministers.

Meanwhile, an official statement of Indian government last night said Chidambaram and Shahara would have one-on-one meeting before the delegation-level talks today. 

Issues on security, border management and enhanced cooperation between the police and law enforcement agencies of the countries will be high on the agenda. 

India's National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Home Secretary RK Singh and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai would be in the Indian delegation.

The meeting of the home ministers of Bangladesh and India take on the added significance with the presence of Gowher Rizvi and Indian National Security adviser Shivshankar Menon, said officials who regularly attend ministerial-level talks between the two sides.

This clearly indicates that the home minister-level talks would focus on all issues relating to security cooperation between the two sides, especially the drives against terrorists and criminals.

Sources said India is likely to ask Bangladesh to consider imposing night curfews along the border to prevent movement of people like India has done.