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India quietly ringing B'desh with barbed-wire

BANGLADESH: Everyone knew it was out there somewhere, an invisible line that cut through a cow pasture and, at least in theory, divided one nation from another. But no one saw it as a border.

It was just a lumpy field of grass, uneven from the hooves of generations of cattle, and villagers crossed back and forth without even thinking about it.

Today, no one can ignore the line.

In a construction project that will eventually reach across 3,300 kilometers, hundreds of rivers and long stretches of forests and fields, India has been quietly sealing itself off from Bangladesh, its much poorer neighbor. Sections totaling about 2,500 kilometers have been built the past seven years.

In Sujatpur, a poor farming village, the frontier is now defined by two rows of 3-meter-high barbed wire barriers, the posts studded with ugly spikes the size of a toddler's fingers. A smaller fence, and miles of barbed wire coils, fill the space in between. The expanse of steel, set into concrete, spills off toward the horizon in both directions.

"Before, it was like we were one country," said Mohammed Iqbal, a Bangladeshi farmer walking near the border on a windy afternoon. "I used to go over there just to pass the time."

As he spoke, a cow wandered past, brass bells jangling around its neck. "But now that's over," he said.

The Bangladesh government made a few complaints - the fence felt like an insult, as if their country was a plague that needed to be quarantined - but soon gave up.

There's no clear completion date for the US$1.2 billion project, which when finished will nearly encircle Bangladesh - leaving open only its seacoast and its border of about 320 kilometers with Myanmar.

India believes some Indian militant groups are based in Bangladesh, a charge the Bangladeshi government denies.

Sujatpur, Tuesday, AP

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