Bangladesh takes back 213 stranded immigrants

CALCUTTA (India): Bangladesh yesterday defused a row with India by taking back 213 migrants stranded at their common border, Indian officials said. 

The group, mostly snake-charmers, were stopped last Friday by India's Border Security Force (BSF) after they apparently tried to enter India at Coochbehar, 650km north of Calcutta. 

They became the focus of an intense diplomatic wrangle after India said their documents proved they were Bangladeshis while Bangladesh insisted they were Indians. 

The infiltrators blocked by Indian border guards at Satgachi village in Coochbehar were taken back by the Bangladesh Rifles early yesterday, said BSF spokesman P.P. Gupta by telephone from Siliguri in the eastern state of West Bengal, of which Calcutta is the capital. 

He said Indian border guards moved away on Wednesday from no man's land between the two countries where the group was stranded. 

“As dense fog blanketed the area, Bangladesh border guards came to the infiltrators and took them to the other side of the border,” he said. 

But a spokesman for the Bangladesh foreign ministry in Dhaka refused to confirm or deny if the group had been taken back. 

Border guards from both sides were talking on the matter and a “high-level” meeting was expected to take place in a day or two, he said. 

He said Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Morshed Khan would visit New Delhi at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha at a date which will be announced later. 

Sinha telephoned Khan late Wednesday and invited him to visit India “at his convenience.” 

In New Delhi, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said the “immediate crisis” was over, “but the problem of illegal immigration remains which needs to be resolved,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted him as saying. 

India last month announced a drive to expel Bangladeshis staying illegally in its territory. 

Bangladesh in turn charged that India was breaching rules by trying to force people across the border without due process. 

Various estimates put the number of illegal immigrants from Bangladeshi at between 15 million and 20 million. 

The Bangladesh foreign ministry spokesman reiterated yesterday there were no illegal Bangladeshis in India and that there were set procedures to deal with such cases, including verification of identities. 

The dispute threatened to take an ugly turn on Wednesday.  

Advani insisted the stranded immigrants would have “to go back to their country.” – AFP  

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