India on Friday launched an inquiry into the death of a Nepalese citizen during a clash on the border after Kathmandu said the man was killed in firing by Indian security forces, as top Indian leaders intervened to defuse tensions.
Local residents said Govinda Gautam, 20, of Kanchanpur district in southwestern Nepal, was hit by shots allegedly fired by Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel on Thursday after a dispute over the construction of a culvert by Nepalese authorities.
Fresh clashes between Nepalese nationals and SSB personnel were reported at two places on Friday despite measures taken by both sides to control the situation. Several SSB personnel and at least a dozen civilians were injured, officials said.
“Around 500 Nepalese nationals gathered at Gauri Phanta border check post at 9 am. A few miscreants on the Nepal side pelted stones at security officials,” said Akash Deep, district magistrate of Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. Stone pelting was also reported in Basahi area, where some security personnel were injured.
“People from the Nepal side used sling shots to shoot glass marbles. They repeatedly tried to provoke the (security) personnel,” Akash Deep said.
Another 36 people, including nine SSB personnel, were injured in Thursday’s clash. Movement across the border was suspended after the violence.
Gautam’s death created tension in Kanchanpur and hundreds protested outside the hospital where his body was kept. Nepal deployed armed police contingents to control the situation.
After Nepal’s foreign ministry condemned the “killing of an innocent Nepali national…due to fire opened by the Indian security forces”, India’s external affairs ministry said the SSB had launched an inquiry. Earlier, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu had denied any firing by SSB personnel.
Nepal’s foreign secretary Shanker Das Bairagi summoned India’s deputy chief of mission, Vinay Kumar, and handed over a “diplomatic note” that sought a probe. The Nepali side asked India to “stop such inimical activates”.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval spoke to Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed sorrow over the incident.
Doval told Pracahanda India will extend all possible cooperation and requested Nepalese authorities to provide the autopsy report and other information on the incident, an official statement said. Prachanda said he hoped India would take stern action against the guilty after a probe.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said, “The government of Nepal is being requested through diplomatic channels to share post-mortem and forensic reports to facilitate the process.”
Local officials from both sides held a meeting and “agreed to maintain peace and order”, he said.
Nepal’s foreign minister Prakash Sharan Mahat too discussed the incident with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj during a phone call.
Culvert being built in undemarcated section of border
Indian officials said the Nepalese side began constructing the culvert in an area near border pillar number 200, the status of which is yet to be decided. The dispute began after pillar number 200 went missing some time ago, and the culvert is located in an area claimed by India.
Residents on the Nepalese side said the situation became tense on Thursday after SSB personnel, accompanied by people from the Indian border town of Basahi, allegedly fired in the air.
But Lakhimpur Kheri district magistrate Akash Deep said when he had gone to the border to discuss the matter with Nepalese officials, “thousands of Nepali citizens entered Indian territory and set up a Nepal flag”.
He said “border forces had to use teargas to disperse them” and denied that any shots were fired.
SSB commandant Dilbag Singh said: “SSB jawans on duty objected to (the construction)…Following this, Nepalese people gathered there and pelted stones, resulting in injuries to seven SSB jawans and some civilians.”
Indian and Nepalese officials agreed after consultations that status quo would be maintained till survey teams of both countries finalised the border. A six-member team comprising officials from both sides will monitor developments and take steps to ease tensions.
The death of Gautam triggered protests in some parts of Nepal that were joined by activists of the ruling CPN-Maoist Center and opposition parties. Home minister Bimalendra Nidhi said Gautam had been declared a martyr and the government will provide his family Rs 1 million as compensation.
Lawmakers from various political parties sought an answer from the government over the incident. They criticised the government for “surrendering” to India and not seeking compensation.
(With inputs from Chandan Kumar and Deokant Pandey)