KATHMANDU: Nepal today detained 13 Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel for nearly five hours after they "inadvertently" entered the country while chasing suspected smugglers, the second incident along the border within a week amid tension in bilateral ties.
The incident took place around 6:30 AM when a SSB patrol party saw some suspicious activity along the Ambari-Kesna border post and began a "hot pursuit" of the suspected diesel smugglers.
Nepal's Armed Police Force (APF) personnel deployed at the Border Account Post at Kechana Village in Jhapa district, bordering Bihar's Kishanganj district, detained the SSB jawans when they entered the country, Nepal Police sources said.
Four SSB jawans were carrying modern rifles, they said.
All 13 SSB personnel were later released after being kept at APF camp in Kechana for nearly five hours.
SSB Chief B D Sharma in New Delhi told PTI that the 13 personnel had been freed and "are back in Indian territory".
"We appreciate the cooperation extended today by our counterparts on the Nepal side and I have ordered a Court of Inquiry into the incident so that corrective action can be taken and such incidents do not occur in the future," he said.
Sharma said there has been no 'bodily harm' to the SSB personnel and that they have been extended due courtesies by APF. The paramilitary force guards the 1,751 km-long open frontier with Nepal.
According to Indian officials, the SSB patrol party comprising 13 SSB personnel followed the lead team of two jawans, identified as Constables Roshan and Ramprasad of the 12th SSB battalion deployed in the area, and "inadvertently" crossed over to the other side by about 50 metres into Khuntanmani village after which villagers surrounded it.
"The troops are back (in India) with all their belongings and weapons," the officials said.
Nepal's Jhapa District Assistant Chief Officer Dambaru Prasad Niraula said the SSB jawans were handed over to the Indian side after an investigation into the incident.
"They (SSB jawans) were quizzed on reason for entering Nepal," Niraula added.
The SSB chief was informed about the incident by his counterpart Kesh Raj Onta, who heads APF, and the direct conversation between the two resolve the issue within five hours, officials privy to the development said in New Delhi.
The SSB personnel were taken to Jhapa district and a field commander meeting was convened immediately after the heads of the two forces spoke to each other.
Relations between India an Nepal have nosedived in recent months as Indian-origin Madhesis protesting against the new Constitution have blocked key border trade points with India, causing severe shortages of fuel and other essentials.
Last week, four Nepalese nationals sustained injuries after being allegedly shot by SSB personnel in southern Nepal near the border with India.
Nepal had alleged that the SSB personnel entered 100 metres inside its territory in Sunsari district, which lies on the border with India, and fired at four unarmed Nepalese while chasing a group of chemical fertiliser smugglers.
The Indian embassy here, however, had said the border guards fired at the smugglers in self-defence inside Indian territory.
India last week hit out at Nepal for "shifting" blame of atrocities inside its "volatile" Sunsari district to the SSB.
Commenting on today's incident, Nepalese Ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said that the border guards could enter each others' side but they have to submit all weapons at the border check points. "But they (SSB jawans) were there with arms and ammunition," he said in New Delhi.
"The local people, I think, they were in reaction and since any kind of incidence might have happened, our security forces, especially the armed police were there to rescue the Indian forces here," he said, adding that it's very very normal but these days the people are sensitive due to the acute shortage of the essential goods caused by the blockade.
"It is very difficult to say whether they were smugglers or very very needy, that is why there has to be a very good rapport between the two forces and they have to establish very good communication and avoid these kind of things," he added.
The SSB patrol team was on vigil in the area today as the force had seized about 1,500 litres of diesel being allegedly smuggled to the other side yesterday.
"Last night, our teams seized about 1,500 litres of diesel which was being smuggled from the same area on the border and hence the patrol party was on alert," Inspector General (Operations) Deepak Kumar said.
After having witnessed suspicious activity, the officials said, two SSB jawans followed the alleged smugglers after which the rest of the patrol party went in.