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India's clean chit to Hasina govt; BDR blamed

NEW DELHI, Apr 22: India today absolved the Bangladesh government of responsibility for what it called the torture-related killing of 16 of its troops after the worst border clash in 30 years between the two South Asian nations, reports AFP.

"We are given to understand that this was an action unilaterally taken by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and the government of Bangladesh was not aware of it," Indian Home Secretary Kamal Pande said here.

India's conciliatory tone was based on statements purported to have been made in Dhaka on the non-involvement of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina government in the deaths of the 16 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel.

"When the (Bangladeshi) Foreign Secretary is saying so, I believe it is with some responsibility," Pande said, adding that New Delhi hoped a probe started into the incident by Dhaka would be an "open one."

Pande put the blame on the BDR, and described the killings as "a brutal act of murder."

"It is quite clear that eight of the bodies have point-blank bullet wounds. It is evident that injuries and the bullet wounds could not have been obtained in firing," he said.

The BDR, meanwhile, handed over two injured BSF men and the body of another to the BSF in the Mahendragunj sector of India's northeastern state of Meghalaya at 5:00 p.m. (1130 GMT).

"The two men are in bad shape with severe injuries and they would be needing urgent medical attention," V.K. Gaur, regional commander of the BSF, told AFP by telephone from his headquarters in Shillong, capital of Meghalaya state.

"We have lodged a strong protest with the BDR to return the weapons of the dead soldiers," Gaur said, adding that he was awaiting details of the condition of the body which was sent back in a coffin.

Doctors said the body was highly-decomposed. It took to 16 the number of bodies of BSF men returned to the Indian force by BDR personnel since the clash between the two neighbours last week

BSF commander Gaur said following the return of the two injured personnel that he placed his troops on a maximum security "red alert" along Bangladesh's border.

In New Delhi, Home Secretary Pande conceded the "brutality" had angered the BSF, which has more than 120,000 heavily-armed troops trained in border warfare.

"Yes, there is resentment on the ground," he said of the BSF contingents deployed along the India-Bangladesh borders.

The absolution of Premier Hasina's government in any wrong-doing came a day after New Delhi lodged a strong protest with Dhaka.

The allegedly mutilated bodies of the 16 BSF men returned by the BDR have sent waves of outrage across India with demands now growing for tit-for-tat retaliations.

Indian Premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee was likely to make a statement in parliament tomorrow to ward off an opposition attack on his government's seemingly "blow-hot, blow-cold" stand on last week's incidents on the borders, an official source said.

BSF chief Gurbachan Jagat toured the sites of the clashes and speaking to reporters, he too condemned the 16 murders as custodial deaths.

Pande's clean chit to premier Sheikh Hasina's administration also came after Jagat briefed members of the Indian cabinet including Home Minister LK Advani and Vajpayee.