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Bangladesh accused of border buildup

Bangladeshi border guard
Bangladesh calls recent border troop movements routine  

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GAUHATI, India -- The Indian military has accused Bangladesh of boosting its forces along the border, increasing tension after last week's fighting left 19 soldiers dead.

Indian troops have been put on maximum alert along the 4,000-km (2,500-mile) border with Bangladesh following the apparent build-up, a senior Indian military official said Tuesday.

"The military buildup on the Bangladesh side is increasing and they have moved in medium machine guns and mortars," said Arvind Ranjan, who heads Indian border forces in the states of Tripura, Mizoram, and southern Assam's Cachar sector.

Bangladesh is recruiting 20,000 new border guards to safeguard its frontiers with India and to curb smuggling, a top Bangladeshi official said Tuesday.

Despite the recruiting, Bangladesh denied that Bangladesh was already increasing its patrols, moving up army troops and beefing up weaponry along the border.

The accusation dampened sympathetic exchanges between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Bangladeshi Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina, who promised a thorough inquiry into the killings.

Border Security Force Deputy Inspector General S. Basumatari said in Agartala, capital of the northeastern frontier state of Tripura: "They not only increased strength but also dug trenches and took positions with sophisticated weapons.

"Their movements are now visible on several border points along Tripura."

More Bangladeshi soliders were reportedly also being deployed near Pyrdiwah, a village that Bangladeshi Rifles border troops took over last week, leading to clashes in which 16 Indian soldiers and three Bangladeshi soldiers died.

Bangladesh response

A Bangladesh foreign ministry official called the movements routine and denied that troops were sent to the frontier.

Bangladeshi coffins
Bangladeshi soldiers unload coffins of comrades killed in the last border clash  

"We are surely cautious, but to say that there is large movement of troops is wrong," said the official, who cannot be identified under standing briefing regulations in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital.

Bangladesh major Mahbububul Alam, general staff officer of the Bangladesh Rifles operations wing, denied there was any increase in troops and said tension along the border was unwinding.

"We don't know what's really been going on on the Indian side, but there has been no particular build-up of troops on this side. We are just keeping a tight vigil, though tension is subsiding," he said in Dhaka.

Latest clash

On April 15, some 700 Bangladeshi border troops entered an Indian village and surrounded a camp of sleeping Indian Border Security Force troops, causing the villagers to flee.

Three days later, Bangladesh says, Indian forces tried to capture a post on the other side of the border, but failed, losing 15 soldiers in battle and one allegedly killed by a mob of Bangladeshis who captured him.

The confrontation was sparked by the occupation of a narrow strip of land by Bangladeshi forces on the southern fringe of the hilly Indian state of Meghalaya.

The bodies of the dead Indian soldiers which bore signs of torture and mutilation were returned Friday.

Two days later, there was an outbreak of cross-border firing 200 km (125 miles) to the west on the corner of India's Assam.

The face-off appeared to have fizzled out by Friday after New Delhi and Dhaka agreed that their troops would return to their previous positions along the ill-defined and long-disputed frontier.

Border disputes have occurred often over the years between the two traditionally friendly nations, but a high death toll is rare.

Sections of the border have been in dispute since the British carved up the subcontinent in 1947, creating India and Pakistan.

The eastern portion of Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971.

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Bangladesh Prime Minister's Office

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