The chief of Indian Border Security Force yesterday pledged to bring the killing of Bangladeshis along the border down to zero, a promise made by the neighbouring country on numerous occasions but never been fulfilled.
"I must say that our policy is to bring down the border killing to zero.... We are committed to do that," BSF Director General Rakesh Asthana said during a joint press conference after the end of the four-day DG level talks between Border Guard Bangladesh and BSF at Dhaka's BGB headquarters.
In the first eight months of this year, 33 Bangladeshis were killed along the Bangladesh-India border. According to rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, 15 people were killed along the border in 2018, and the number rose to 43 last year.
BGB DG Maj Gen Md Shafeenul Islam led a 13-member Bangladesh delegation to the 50th DG-level conference, which began on September 16, while his Indian counterpart led a six-member team.
Both sides agreed to hold the next DG level conference at Guwahati, India preferably within the second week of November.
The BSF chief said they assured the BGB that they can bring down the number of deaths along the border with a joint coordinated patrol system which has stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and also by continuing formal and informal interactions at the field level.
"Our troops have been instructed very clearly that we should open fire only as a last resort," Rakesh said replying to a query.
He said such a situation arises mostly due to criminal activities like smuggling of cattle, narcotics, gold, weapons and ammunitions on both sides of the border.
"In order to prevent such criminal activities, weapons are being used which have resulted in unfortunate deaths in the past," he said explaining the reason for the killings.
He, however, said he was not justifying any killing. "I reiterate that we are committed to reducing border killings to zero," he said, adding that India has very good relations with Bangladesh.
"I have joined recently and in the future you will see the progress," the BSF DG added.
To prevent the illegal activities, both the sides decided in the meeting that they should have real time sharing of intelligence and information about the movements of criminals across the border and about the activities of the syndicates who are running such activities from behind the scene.
"Seventy percent of deaths happen between 10:00pm and 5:30am. Normally, criminals remain active during this period. Secondly, the operations have taken place inside the Indian territory," Rakesh said replying to another query.
He claimed that 52 BSF personnel have been injured this year by criminals operating in both countries.
The BGB DG said his counterpart assured that he would do his best to work out a strategy to make sure that loss of human lives can be avoided. He said the border killing issue was given top priority in the discussion as it has psychological impact on the people of Bangladesh.
Asked whether it was BGB's failure that Bangladeshi citizens were entering Indian territory, Shafeenul said, "Bangladesh has a border of 4,427 km and it is a porous border. It has many rivers, marshes, hills and plain land. We have a border outpost in every 5 km. We are trying to guard it with the help of technology."
During the talks, both the DGs also agreed to aid victims of human trafficking and to facilitate their rescue and rehabilitation as soon as possible as per the law of the land.
Both the sides also agreed to continue sensitising the border people to refrain from crossing the border illegally.
Appreciating the cooperation extended by BGB and other security forces of Bangladesh against Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs), the BSF chief sought further cooperation from BGB for destroying "reported hideouts of IIGs in Bangladesh".
Shafeenul assured that there was no IIGs camp or hideout inside Bangladesh.
Asked about flow of untreated chemical waste from India though a river in Brahmanbaria's Akhaura upazila, the BGB chief said the ministries concerned of both the countries were deeply engaged in resolving the issue.