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India shoots to kill at border

DHAKA (UCAN): Despite repeated promises by the government in India not to shoot people wandering into the country from across the border with Bangladesh, some 28 have been shot dead so far this year by the Indian Border Security Force, Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a Dhaka-based rights group, reported on September 28.

Over the last three years the casualties have numbered 26, 33 and 46.

In the latest incident, 25-year-old Baharul Islam, from a village in northern Kurigram district, was gunned down by Indian soldiers on September 25.

“The indiscriminate killing of civilians is a sin, a crime against humanity. Even if these people illegally trespassed onto Indian territory or committed a crime, nothing can justify the killings,” Bishop Gervas Rozario, the chairperson of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dhaka, said.

He called for tolerance and restraint in dealing with border issues. “Killing and abuse at the border create bitterness and enmity. As neighbours and friendly nations, we must find ways to stop the killings for the sake of keeping good relations,” he added.

Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometre land border. In 2006, India started construction of a barbed wire fence along a 3,200-kilometre stretch in an attempt to keep out undocumented migrants, smugglers, anti-government insurgents and militants.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch claims that although the two countries have relatively warm relations, about 1,000 civilians, mostly Bangladeshi villagers, including children, have been killed by Indian soldiers in the past 10 years.

In many cases, victims were cattle smugglers—poor farmers and labourers hoping to supplement their meagre livelihoods on the black market, which until a year ago was thriving along the border.

Hindus, who make up most of India’s population, consider cows sacred, while in neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh cows are slaughtered for food, as beef is considered a delicacy. Cows in Bangladesh can fetch up to five times more than in India.

India does not allow the export of cows and hence any cross-border cattle trading is illegal. Amid diplomatic and international pressure, India has ordered the Border Security Force to drop the shoot-to-kill policy and use non-lethal means.

“It seems there is a lack of effort in developing relations. Since border situation has not improved as expected, global intervention, maybe from the United Nations, could be helpful in solving the problem,” Nur Khan, from Ain-O-Salish Kendra, said.

“In the past, the Indian Border Security Force used to say they fired at Bangladeshis in self-defence, but it is not true,” Aziz Ahmed, from the Bangladeshi Border Guard, said.

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