- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

NEW DELHI, Feb. 6 (UPI) — More than 200 Bengali-speaking Muslims who India says are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were deported Thursday ending a tense weeklong standoff at the common border between the two states, Indian news reports said.

The semi-official Press Trust of India said the incident took place early Thursday local time after New Delhi exerted pressure on Dhaka to take back the 213 people stranded in the no-man's land between the two countries.

Inspector General K.C. Sharma, of India's Border Security force, said members of his organization's Bangladeshi counterpart, the Bangladesh Rifles, took back the deportees, mostly poor snake charmers and their families who were living in makeshift tents in cold and wet conditions.

"We wanted BDR to accept them in the presence of the media but just to save their face BDR took them back in the middle of the night," he told PTI.

Bangladesh has not commented on the report yet.

Another top BSF official, R.P. Singh, told PTI Bangladesh's acceptance of the deportees was unexpected.

"It all happened so suddenly that we were taken aback by the BDR gesture," he said.

He said though the situation on the ground was peaceful, the BSF was still on high alert.

Trouble between India and its eastern neighbor began when India announced last month it would deport an estimated 20 million illegal Bangladeshi refugees from its territories. Bangladesh has said the two sides have exchanged gunfire twice in the past two weeks, but India says there has been no firing.

India regarded the 213 deported to be illegal Bangladeshi migrants. India's eastern West Bengal state shares a common border and language with Bangladesh, but India's Bengalis are predominantly Hindu while most Bangladeshis are Muslim.

Bangladesh accused India of trying to forcibly expel Bengali-speaking Muslims from West Bengal more than 30 times in the past two weeks.

"We will do everything to prevent further such attempts," Bangladesh Home Secretary Omar Farooq told reporters in Dhaka.

Bangladeshi border guards turned back several deportees, leaving them stranded.

Relations between the two neighbors have been traditionally good as India helped Bangladesh in its war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Ties have deteriorated in the past year after the election of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who leads her Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Islamist Jamat-e-Islam in the ruling coalition. India is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist group. Most of the disputes have been related to the border.

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