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Incidents
 
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Some incidents in Bangladesh
by Asad-uz Zaman
 


*A nineteen-year-old Nigerian citizen, Goddyu Ochendo, has finally returned to his country after he was detained in Dhaka Central Jail for about eight years.

Goddyu had been detained in Dhaka Central Jail till February 5 last although he was sentenced to only two months jail by a court in Dhaka due to legal complications and lack of attention by the authorities.

The Nigerian envoy in Dhaka was asked by the High Court to send back Goddyu to Nigeria after immediate release from the jail. He left Bangladesh for Nigeria on February 18. The High Court order came following a report in The Daily Star.

Goddyu was arrested with teenaged American girl, Elieda MacCord in 1992 on charges of drug smuggling. In July 1993, Goddyu was acquitted in the drug smuggling case, but he was charged with using an "invalid" passport. After three years of trial, the court sentenced him to two months imprisonment.

Elieda was released much earlier when a noted American congressman, Bill Richardson visit Bangladesh for freeing her.

*A woman who was involved in child trafficking was arrested on February 22 at Savar area when she was loitering suspiciously.

According to Savar Upazila police, Parveen Akhter (30) was held with a minor boy, Manju, near the sub-registry office. Manju, a son of Abdul Mazid, was brought from the southwestern district of Jessore. (Source: The daily Prothom Alo, February 24)

*Shahina Akhter, a pregnant woman and wife of Mujibar Rahman of Sonadanga village under Baghmara Upazila of Rajshahi district, could save her life anyway.

But she failed to give birth to a live child as the on-duty doctors and nurses did not look after her properly at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH).

According to a newspaper report, Shahina was admitted to the ward no. 22 of the RMCH on February 15 with serious pain. Her relatives alleged that the doctors and nurses did nothing at the critical stage of her health.

Later she was taken to a private clinic where a gynecologist of the DMCH, Noreen Begum operated upon her and removed Shahina's dead child.

 
 
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Does the Abduction of Foreigners Signal Something More Ominous?
Signs of a Military Reoccupation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts
 
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On the 16th of February 2001, four foreigners (2 British and 2 Danish) working as consultants for the Roads and Highways Department, and the driver of their car were abducted at gunpoint at Betchari, 25 kilometers from Rangamati. One of the British consultants was released soon after, alongwith the driver, and sent back with a note to Rangamati. The note contained a demand: the foreigners would be released in exchange of a ransom of 9 crore taka (1.8 million US dollars).

As anthropologists who have been, for many years, vocal against the military occupation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and at the reconstituted nature of political and economic subjection of the pahari people after the signing of the Peace Treaty Accord between the Government of Bangladesh and the Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS) in December 1997, we are deeply alarmed at the incidence of abduction and at the events surrounding it. We are as concerned about the personal safety of the hostages - Torben Mikkelson and Nils Huggard of Denmark, and Tim Selby of Britain - as we are about the safety and security of pahari peoples, and at the consequences that this incidence might have on the Hill Tracts region in the near-future.

That the Peace Treaty Accord has not brought peace to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, has been, over the past months, repeatedly pronounced by Santu Larma, who had himself signed the Accord on behalf of the JSS, and has since been threatening to return to previous guerilla tactics of armed struggle if the conditions of the agreement are not fulfilled by the government. In a situation where Santu Larma and the JSS seem to be losing popular support and credibility among the paharis, and the United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), who had opposed the Peace agreement on the grounds that hill people's autonomy was not ensured (a position which has been borne out by later events), seem to be gaining support, things are, undoubtedly complex. That there is more to it than meets the eye becomes clear when one scans the first newspaper reports of abduction that came out on the 18th of February.

Most national dailies reported the suspicion that the abductors belong to the anti-Peace Accord Treaty group. Some newspapers went a step further: the "UPDF" was mentioned by name. Military intelligence has been cited by the dailies as their news source. This automatically raises the question: what kind of evidence has enabled military officers to reach such a conclusion? The editors of liberal newspapers, which more often act as mediums of hegemonic Bengali ethnicity, apparently do not feel obliged to question the veracity of such claims: their Bengali ears are probably attuned to receiving such "truths." Several days after the abduction, Kalparanjan Chakma, the minister for CHT affairs was reported in the newspapers as saying that they (surely meaning the administration?) did not know who the abductors were, and that the wild guesses which were being manufactured were particularly unhelpful. The identity of the abductors is still not known (although one newspaper report states, that the army is "99% sure" of their identity. No further elaboration has been made. It is not necessary either. Bengali public discourses on the identity of the abductors have been framed around whether they are "pro-Treaty" or "anti-Treaty" and all fingers point to the latter). That no political group of the Hill Tracts has so far claimed responsibility for the abduction does not seem to matter either. And that, militant groups are more likely to give priority to the release of their leaders (such as Shonjoy Chakma in the case of UPDF, and scores of activists imprisoned recently) as happened in the Kashmiri militants' hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane last December - such reasoning does not seem to carry any weight.

In the meanwhile, on the night of the 22nd the police conducted a raid on Dozarpara village,. Dozarpara is adjacent to the Kalapahar forest, where the abductors are believed to be hiding with their hostages. Newspaper reports claim that it is a UPDF stronghold. During the raid, the police picked up 70 people, detained 33, of whom 25 are "suspected" activists of the UPDF. Pahari public representatives who had been doing pre-negotiation groundwork for several days, told journalists that they had not been informed that the raid would be carried out. It seems that even the CHT minister himself was not informed. On hearing of the raid, the pahari mediators had gone to the village only to find it deserted. The police had been brutal: they had beaten up people, ransacked homes, and sexually assaulted women. According to the pahari representatives, the raid has imperiled their efforts to negotiate with the abductors. Why was a loyal minister kept in the dark? Worse still, one of the pahari mediators has expressed the opinion that the raid was deliberately carried out to prevent negotiations taking place. And mind you, these mediators are pro-Peace Accord Treaty paharis, public representatives who are loyal to the Awami League government.

What has seemed most strange to us in these last ten days has been the trigger-happy manner in which the Bangladeshi military forces have been operating which harken back to the not-so-distant pre-Peace Treaty Accord past: the national dailies have been full of news of the setting-up of army road patrols, of army camps at strategic points, the sealing of entry and exit points within a 35-mile arc, the cordoning of roads, the carrying-out of combing and searching operations by the crack troops of the Bangladesh Army, and the splitting of 600 counter-insurgency troops from the elite 24th division of the army into 20 patrols which were joined by the Bangladesh Defense Rifles and the armed police, and provided with air-cover by Air Force helicopters. But the crowning achievement of the army has undoubtedly been the issuance of an "ultimatum" to the abductors: the army threatened to "use force" and flush out the abductors if the hostages were not safely turned-over to the authorities. Surely, it is hijackers and abductors who issue ultimatums (as everyone knows in this media-saturated world) and not the national government or army, especially not when those abducted are Westerners? More particularly so, when "the government" we are talking about is that of a poor, aid-dependent third world nation. Why is the army confused over its "proper" role (that is, issuing ultimatums which is a role befitting abductors and hijackers)? The army has since, however, denied that it had issued any ultimatum and has promised to go low-profile, amidst gentle reprovals by officials of Western donor nations that the use of force is not appropriate, that European lives are at stake, that force is not to be used until the abductors give signs of being tired and exhausted, that may be then.... but still.. after all, European lives.... Bangladesh's image ..... And in the meantime, two British experts who are reported to possess expertise in such matters (trained in criminal psychology perhaps? After all, it was the British colonisers, who had officially legislated that "the tribals" of colonial India are "criminals") have arrived from England to aid Bangladeshi official in conducting negotiations.

We have said at the very beginning that we are worried. We are concerned about the safety and security of the expatriate consultants. We are worried that the government will use the instance of abduction to rescind its own Peace Accord (which is, at any rate, dubious) and reoccupy the Hill Tracts militarily. Military occupation will undoubtedly aid the Awami League government in ensuring the "good governance" of the Hill Tracts (crackdown on pahari struggles, policing, surveillance etc.) and on the extraction of its natural resources. Some Western governments have a keen interest in the latter, being, of course, "partners" in our development efforts. In this context, the possibilities of pahari peoples asserting not only their rights - to life, livelihood, and land - but in being able to withstand continuing Bengali assaults (enabled by arms manufactured by Western nations, by a national military and national security force who receive training largely in British and US academies) on their physical, material and cultural existence seems more and more remote.

Manosh Chowdhury & Rahnuma Ahmed
Department of Anthropology
Jahangirnagar University
Savar, Dhaka,
Bangladesh.

 
 
   
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