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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK


World: South Asia

Border commanders declare truce



By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

India and Bangladesh have agreed to maintain the status quo on the disputed river island where the border guards of the two countries have fought gunbattles since Sunday.

In a meeting at the border, India's Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) agreed to restrain their forces and leave the dispute to be settled by appropriate authorities on both sides.

The meeting took place in a government bungalow at the Indian frontier town of Belonia overlooking the river Muhuri, where the border guards of the two countries traded fire for three days from Sunday.

Truce meeting

The firing stopped late on Tuesday and it was all peaceful on the Muhurichar river island, on Wednesday.

The two sides agreed to maintain what they describe as a status quo on the disputed river island.

The BDR delegation was led by its director general, Major General Azizur Rehman and the BSF delegation by P C Goel, Inspector-General of the BSF's Tripura-Cachar-Mizoram frontier.

Major General Rehman and Mr Goel told journalists in Belonia that both sides would restrain their forces and that there should be no reason for more fighting.

Dispute

The river island - about 140 acres in size - has been a disputed area since the birth of Bangladesh.

The BSF and BDR fought gun battles over the area on three previous occasions - in 1976, 1979 and 1985.

However, hostilities ceased when both countries decided to treat the midstream as the international boundary.

But the changing course of the river, and the appearance of new stretches of the island, has complicated matters.

Peasants from both sides are eager to develop the island's rice production.

Improved relations

An Indian foreign ministry official welcomed the understanding reached between the BDR and the BSF.

He said the joint rivers commission of the two countries would handle the issue and arrive at a proper settlement.

The official said that the border guards were not justified in fighting gunbattles when relations between India and Bangladesh were improving.

Even so, the Indian foreign ministry summoned Bangladesh's acting high commissioner to India on Tuesday, and conveyed Delhi's concern over the gunbattles at Muhurichar.



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