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Tensions Increase Between India, Bangladesh

Tensions between India and Bangladesh are intensifying as a dispute rages on the nationality of more than 200 people stranded on their common border. Arguments are heating up over what India said is a massive influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants - a charge Bangladesh denies.

The dispute centers on 213 Bengali Muslims, most of them snake charmers, now living in a no man's land between the two countries. Neither country wants to let them in.

New Delhi said they are Bangladeshis caught trying to sneak into West Bengal state last week. Dhaka said they are Indians, and is refusing to let them in to Bangladesh.

Tension along the no man's land is escalating. Bangladeshi border guards are on high alert and India has sent in extra troops. Dhaka said its border guards and Indian troops have exchanged fire at least twice this week. India denies such incidents, but Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes says things are getting "out of control" on the border.

The snake charmers were trapped after New Delhi announced a crackdown last month on illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Dhaka strongly denied there is any such movement from its side into India.

Indian Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, on a visit to Singapore, said illegal immigration from Bangladesh is a major problem for India - and Dhaka must address the issue.

"If we want to tackle the problems of internal security effectively, this [illegal immigration] is something that has to be stopped and reversed," Mr. Advani said. "I would urge the government of Bangladesh to cooperate in this matter, and see that illegal immigrants to India are taken by Bangladesh."

Indian officials said there are an estimated 20 million Bangladeshis living illegally in the country, and that they pose a security risk. They accuse Bangladeshi border guards of helping people cross a porous common border. Bangladeshi officials accuse Indian troops of attempting to force hundreds of Bengali-speaking muslims onto its soil during the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, the people caught in the middle are camped in tents, and are reported to be living in miserable conditions without adequate food or medicine. Reports say many are getting sick.

Relations between Dhaka and New Delhi are usually cordial, but the issue of illegal immigration has always been sensitive.