An Indian national was killed and two others were injured when the Nepal Armed Police Force, responsible for border security, opened fire on a group during a clash at a border point near Sitamarhi in Bihar Friday morning.
Senior police officers of Nepal and Bihar and the Sashastra Seema Bal called it a local incident and said it had nothing to do with the border row between Delhi and Kathmandu over territorial claims to Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura in Uttarakhand — Nepal’s House of Representatives will vote Saturday on a Bill seeking to include the areas in the country’s new map.
There are conflicting accounts of what led to the firing in which Vikesh Rai, a 25-year-old from Sonbarsa in Sitamarhi, was killed and two others, Umesh Ram and Uday Sharma, also from Sonbarsa, were injured and later admitted to a hospital in Sitamarhi.
Bihar police said the incident took place at 8.15 am on the Nepal side of Pillar Number 319/24 near Janaki Nagar, Lalbandi Durbar under the Sonbarsa police station.
Taking a hard line
Ignoring Indian calls not to precipitate a crisis, the Oli government has fast-tracked the passage of a Bill to get parliamentary sanction for Nepal’s new map that includes territories on Indian maps. The territorial issue gives it a new lease of life, but the government, beset with challenges on the home front, may have complicated the future of negotiations with India on the matter.
According to Sitamarhi police, the Nepal Armed Police Force personnel asked a group of local women to move away from the border point. A crowd gathered and one Ramlagan Rai of Shanti Nagar in Sonbarsa was detained by the Nepal APF personnel. This led to a clash and the APF personnel opened fire.
Nagesh Rai, father of Vikesh Rai who was killed in the firing, told reporters: “I own some agricultural land in Narayanpur area of Nepal. My son Vikesh was working in the fields when Nepal APF opened fire. Several Sonbarsa residents have land on the Nepal side. They are upset because they are not being allowed to go to their fields due to the Covid outbreak.”
In Kathmandu, Nepal Home Ministry officials said around 60 people entered the Sarlahi district limits from Sonbarsa and began pelting stones when they were stopped for checks.
Sarlahi’s Chief District Officer Mohan G C said: “One of them even snatched the rifle from an APF personnel, and in the firing that followed, one person died instantly and six others, including three security personnel, sustained injuries.”
Sitamarhi officials spoke to their counterparts across the border. “Police generally exercise restraint, but at a time when the area is under lockdown, the violent behaviour of the crowd from across the border led to the firing,” an official of the Home Ministry said.
The last time such an incident took place on the border was five years ago, weeks after India enforced an economic blockade of Nepal. Ashish Kumar Ram, a 20-year old resident of Raxaul in Bihar, was killed on November 3, 2015 after Nepal police personnel opened fire to clear a border bridge that had been occupied by people and parties opposed to the country’s new constitution.
Sitamarhi Superintendent of Police Anil Kumar told The Indian Express: “It is purely a local incident, provoked by a minor law and order management issue on part of Nepal Armed Police Force. It has nothing to do with any tension along the Indo-Nepal border”. He said movement from either side had been restricted in view of the Covid prevention measures in place.
Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey too said it was a local issue. “We have sounded Bihar districts bordering Nepal to be on the vigil,” he said.
Sashastra Seema Bal 51 Battalion Commandant Navin Kumar said: “We believe Nepal Armed Police Force could have handled the situation in a better manner. We have been talking to them… It is true that movement is restricted because of Covid-19 and people from either side are not able to till their land or visit their relatives freely.”
SSB Director General Kumar Rajesh Chandra said: “This is a completely local issue with no country-to-country or force-to-force ramifications. The issue arose on the spot and the local police from either side are engaged with each other to sort out the matter. Our DIG is also in touch with the DIG of Nepal APF and there is absolutely no tension on the border.”
In Nepal, the KP Sharma Oli government has tabled a Bill to get parliamentary sanction for its new map that includes the territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.
On Saturday, the Bill will be put to vote in the House of Representatives where members across party lines have come out in support of the government’s decision. Once it clears the Lower House, the Bill will go to the Rastriya Sabha, the Upper House.
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