- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

PRATAP NAGAR, India Killer floods in India have spawned a new deadly menace pirates from Bangladesh who are using the rising waters to prey on millions of people driven from their homes.

They are reaching Indian villages on small motorboats, arriving from across the border and looting unguarded homes, said Sudhir Mandal, a boatman ferrying displaced people. "In the last one week, more than a hundred robberies have taken place, and police cannot help."

The region was inundated with water when monsoon rains began Sept. 18, with the water level rising overnight as much as 9 feet in some places.

Caught unprepared, tens of thousands of people had to flee their homes by makeshift banana plant rafts to take refuge on elevated dikes and railway tracks far away from their villages.

As the men, women and children fled, most of their household materials and other valuables lay submerged inside their mud-and-thatch houses. These abandoned villages have become easy targets for the Bangladeshi pirates.

Inside a stationary train that serves as a makeshift shelter for flood victims, Ganesh Sardar broke into tears holding his head between his two hands.

"With my savings of last 10 years I had bought gold ornaments. They took away that box which had also a cash of 20,000 rupees [$445] in it all meant for the dowry for my daughter's marriage next month. I am ruined now."

The 60-year-old peasant was on guard, sitting on top of his hut, when the pirates came and took away his valuables at gunpoint.

Overworked policemen plead helplessness in what they call an unprecedented crime spree.

"We have the information that the sea pirates from Bay of Bengal are infiltrating into the Indian villages every night. But with just 62 boats, a couple of hover crafts and a thousand policemen it is impossible to keep vigil on more than 200 flood-hit villages," said one senior police officer.

"Still there are many villages where people are lying marooned on treetops, and we have not been able to carry any relief to them even one week after the flood… . Rescuing the lives of the people and providing them relief is the top priority for us in this extreme situation," he said.

Desperate villagers say they do not even bother to report such attacks to the police and in some cases are taking the law into their own hands.

"We managed to catch three of them as their boat got trapped in a bush. And they were meted out the right punishment," said one flood victim.

Three pirates were lynched by the villagers of Kalopur, six miles from the border with Bangladesh, a police report said.

In another incident, two gangsters were handed over to the police by some other villagers.

Villagers stuck in makeshift relief camps say they are worried about the safety of their properties in their abandoned villages.

But floodwaters showed no sign of receding, and as the monsoon continues, villagers face growing worries over their belongings.

As fresh floods keep swamping many more border villages, larger areas are getting exposed to the threats of Bangladeshi sea pirates.

Flooding in Eastern India has killed more than 1,200, left more than 20 million people homeless and caused at least $1 billion in damage, Indian officials say.

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