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Posted by W von Papinešu on February 04, 2003 at 21:10:05:
REUTERS 03 February 03 A stranded young Bangladeshi girl holds up a snake on the India-Bangladesh border at Shatgachi village in West Bengal February 3, 2003. More than 200 people, most of them snake charmers and their children, were trapped on the India-Bangladesh border as the neighboring countries argued about which country they came from.(Rupak De Chowduri)
GULF NEWS (Dubai) 03 February 03 Snake charmers caught in Indo-Bangladesh stand-off (Subrata Banerjee)
Kolkata: A group of snake charmers has become pawns in the latest stand-off between Indian and Bangladeshi border guards.
The 215 snake charmers are virtually held hostage, with Bangladesh Rifles branding them as of Indian origin and the Border Security Force of India trying to push them back as Bangladeshi intruders.
The stand-off is taking place close to the international border at Coochbehar in the northern part of West Bengal.
There had been a distinct souring of relations between the two sides after the Indian government launched an offensive campaign accusing Bangladesh of sheltering "terrorist outfits" and also complaining about large-scale infiltration of Bangladeshi nationals into India.
However, as far as the latest stand-off is concerned, a conciliatory meeting between sector commanders on both the sides on Saturday morning failed to resolve the dispute. On the other hand, the troops on both sides were reportedly busy mobilising men and weapons.
As the food stock of the snake charmers' group, whose lifestyle resembles that of gypsies, dwindled the Indian Border Guards requisitioned the services of the local Red Cross volunteers and stationed an ambulance to tackle any emergency.
The plight of the snake charmers was miserable. Some of their prize snake catches were dead. There was a dearth of food and drinking water and they were living out in the open in biting cold, according to those who had been to the spot.
The snake charmers told the Indian guards that they lived close to Dhaka in Savar and were legitimate voters there. They were also willing to produce identification documents if taken back home in Bangladesh.
They crossed over into the Indian side by mistake while on their usual rounds at a Bangladeshi village called Kankramari in Lalmonirhat district of Bangladesh.
Once in Indian territory the BSF intercepted them and asked them to go back, but the Bangladesh Rifles refused and said they were of Indian origin and could not be allowed to enter Bangladesh.