The Indian border guard’s new director general Rajni Kant Mishra called the killings along the Bangladesh-India border as ‘unfortunate deaths’ inside India during ‘skirmishes’ between miscreants and the border force.
‘You use the word ‘killings’. I do say ‘unfortunate deaths’ during skirmishes between criminals or miscreants and the border-guarding forces including the BSF,’ Rajni Kant told a joint press briefing on the 48th Border Guard Bangladesh-Indian Border Security Force director general level conference that concluded on Saturday in Dhaka.
In reply to a question, the Indian border security chief claimed that his force opened fire only when they had no alternatives left.
Rajni Kant was leading a 10-member BSF delegation in his first DG-level talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart at the BGB headquarters in Dhaka after he was appointed in September 2018 to the top position of the border force that has two lakh personnel deployed along the Bangladesh and Pakistan frontiers.
During the joint press conference, the Indian border force chief also claimed that those incidents [‘unfortunate deaths’] took place inside India.
BGB director general Major General Md Shafeenul Islam, who was leading the 19-member Bangladesh delegation, told the press conference that he, in the meeting that began on June 12 in Dhaka, had expressed his deep concern over the ‘killings’ of Bangladesh nationals in border areas.
Major General Shafeenul also pointed out that the number of killings increased in the first five months of this year in comparison with the number of deaths in the whole year of 2018.
‘As of now, it is eight this year,’ Shafeenul said after signing the joint records of the discussion.
Both sides in the conference as usual agreed to undertake joint efforts to bring down the killing incidents to zero by increasing Coordinated Patrols in the areas prone to cattle and drug or narcotics smuggling by educating the border population about the sanctity of the international borders and preventing criminals from crossing them.
According to Bangladesh home ministry statistics, at least 302 Bangladeshis were killed by the BSF between January 2009 and May 31, 2019.
Of them, eight Bangladeshis were killed in the first five months this year while only three border killings were recorded in 2018. The statistics show that 17 others were killed in 2017 while 25 in 2016, 38 in 2015 and 24 in 2014.
Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar recorded 414 deaths, 617 others injured and 484 abductions allegedly in the hands of Indian border force between January 2009 and December 2018.
Between January and March this year, at least seven Bangladeshis were shot dead by the BSF, the Odhikar said, adding that two other Bangladeshis were either shot dead or injured.
Both Indian and Bangladeshi rights activists criticised the BSF chief for defining ‘killings’ as ‘unfortunate deaths.’
Ain o Salish Kendra believes that ‘border killings’ are a clear violation of human rights and international laws.
ASK executive director Sheepa Hafiza termed border killings as ‘extrajudicial killings’. ‘By calling them ‘unfortunate deaths’ you can’t justify the killings as you can’t heal [major] wounds by using balms,’ she added.
In a reaction, Kirity Roy, secretary of India’s Hooghly-based rights organisation Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, popularly known as MASUM, told New Age over phone that the BSF was killing people and not only Bangladeshis but also their own citizens, mostly over cattle smuggling from India.
‘If they [Bangladeshis] commit any crime, there is the Passport Act, among other laws, to prosecute them and prove any allegation against them…’ said Kirity Roy, adding, ‘But the BSF is allowing some people to smuggle cattle in exchange of money while killing others.’
The BSF chief claimed that they trained their forces to maintain maximum restraint but sometimes the situation turned so ugly that their men were attacked with stones, sticks and sharp weapons.
He went on that they used non-lethal weapons in border areas and resorted to firearms use in rarest situations to protect themselves, not to target anyone.
In October 2016, after attending a DG-level dialogue in New Delhi, the then BGB chief Aziz Ahmed, who was later promoted to the rank of general and became the army chief, said that BSF personnel shot Bangladeshi people in the head, eyes and chest, and the border killings were hindering the bilateral relations.
General Aziz also stated that about 95 per cent of the border killings took place because of cattle smuggling from India to Bangladesh.
Asked about any update on the trial of the killing of Bangladeshi girl Felani Khatun by BSF members on January 7, 2011, the Indian border force chief said on Saturday that it was under trial.
Felani, 15, was shot dead by BSF soldiers along Anantapur border in Phulbari upazila under Kurigram on January 7, 2011, when she was returning home by crossing the barbed-wire fences erected by India.
Kirity mentioned that the BSF had challenged the Indian National Human Rights Commission’s ruling on the killing and was making delay in paying compensation and bringing the perpetrators to the justice.
Border guard officials said that a decision was taken at the 42nd director general-level talks in Dhaka on May 16, 2016 to jointly investigate each of the border killing incidents after school student Shehab Uddin of Goalpara in Chuadanga was shot at point-blank range on May 14 that year when a delegation led by the then BSF chief was visiting Bangladesh for a six-day exchange.
Not a single killing on the India-Bangladesh border has so far been investigated jointly due to Indian objection but the number of causalities was gradually going down until 2018, the officials said.
The then BSF chief had promised that the personnel responsible for the death would be punished.
Asked about the updates on the proceedings against the BSF members over the death, the BSF chief said that he did not have the update available.
Replying to a query on the source of Yaba smuggling into Bangladesh through India, the BSF chief said none of the two countries was the source of the contraband item rather a third country was illegally pumping the tablets through India.
The BSF chief appreciated the cooperation extended by the BGB and other security forces in Bangladesh against Indian insurgent groups and sought further cooperation from the Bangladesh border force for destruction of their hideouts in Bangladesh.
The BGB chief said that Bangladesh did not allow her soil to be used by ‘any entity or element hostile to any country and assured all possible help’.
Asked about the allegation that banned Jamaatul Mujaheedin extremists were being harboured in the Indian territory, the BSF chief said that they had not discussed the issue in the conference.
Both sides agreed to take effective measures for preventing smuggling of arms, ammunition, explosives, drugs, gold and Indian fake currency notes across the international border.
Both sides also agreed to pursue and share real time information, including the preliminary questioning report as applicable about the persons apprehended with smuggled items.
Bangladesh shares 4,053 kilometres of border with India.
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