Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Awarding 'crossfire' raises questions

The Rapid Action Battalion director general Mokhlesur Rahman had received a gallantry award along with 12 of his colleagues this year.

The description of the Bangladesh Police Medal given to this additional inspector general rank official says: "His skillful guidance has led to the arrest of 13 top extremist leaders in RAB operations in 2011, as well as the recovery of large amounts of arms and explosives. Nine other extremists have also been killed in gunfights with RAB."

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina handed over Mokhlesur's the award on Tuesday.

The elite crime-fighting unit of police is heavily criticised by local and international human rights organisations for its alleged extrajudicial killings.

Ain O Shalish Kendra chief Sultana Kamal told it was regrettable that the state had issued honours for a controversial issue such as 'crossfire'.

When asked for a reaction from Mokhlesur on this matter, he defended by saying, "Do you want us to stand by and watch criminals shoot us and run?"

In this year's Police Week, 59 members of the police and RAB were awarded Bangladesh Police Medal and President's Police Medal, 12 of whom were RAB members.

Of these men, Lt Col Monirul Haque, Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, Kamrujjaman, Shah Mohammad Azad, Jahidul Islam, Taherul Islam and Awlad Hossain received the PPM for 'deaths of pirates and bandits'.

Sultana Kamal said the awards were encouraging extrajudicial killings while people had questions about such deaths, and added this was equivalent to waving off those questions.

"There are cases against RAB for extrajudicial killings and the cases are still unresolved," she said.

PPM-awarded Ziaul Ahsan's award description tells of an incident on June 22 last year. His team saw an empty trawler boat near the forest station on Bhola river in the Sundarbans. Searching around the boat, they found footprints that led deeper into the forest and when they moved along the track, shots were fired from inside the forest.

RAB fired back in the heat of the moment and later four bullet-riddled bodies were recovered from inside the forest.

Since the inception of RAB in 2004, the words 'crossfire' and 'gunfight' have become part of the everyday vocabulary. Human rights organisations allege the law enforcers are committing extrajudicial killings in the guise of gunfights.

According to Ain O Shalish Kendra, 100 people were killed in 2011 in custody or in 'gunfights'.

When asked for a comment on awarding crossfires, National Human Rights Commission chairman Mizanur Rahman said he could not comment without looking at individual cases.

"I think the government should think carefully before awarding an act that is controversial. Capturing extremists, pirates or bandits is more courageous than killing them.

"But I would like to believe the awards were given after sufficient analysis," he added. 

Taliban to set up office in Qatar to facilitate talks

Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops announced Tuesday they have agreed to have office in Qatar and hold dialogue for the negotiated settlement of Afghan crisis. 

"We are ready to have a political office overseas and in this regard we have reached preliminary understanding with Qatar and other relevant sites," the outfit said in a statement sent to media.

It said that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the ousted Taliban regime) has also demanded the release of its prisoners from U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.

Several Taliban key leaders and commanders are said to have been held in the Guantanamo prison.
Taliban in the statement also pointed out that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America are the two sides involved in Afghanistan issue over the past 10 years.

The Afghan government-backed peace body -- High Council for Peace, according to media reports, has proposed the release of key Taliban leaders including Mullah Khairullah and Mullah Fazal from Guantanamo prison as sign of good will gesture to accelerate peace talks with the Taliban.

Taliban had in the past repeatedly rejected Afghan government's offers for talks, saying there will no dialogue in the presence of foreign forces in the country. 

Israelis, Palestinians Attempt to Salvage Peace Effort

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to meet in Jordan for talks aimed at restarting the stalled peace process.

The meeting Tuesday will be their first in more than a year, since the negotiations fell apart over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.

Both sides say they are ready to re-open a dialogue, but optimism is low and their positions on the settlement issue remain unchanged. The Palestinians are demanding that Israel halt all construction, and Israel has refused.

Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem, says that after 16 months of not talking, having representatives from the two sides in the same room is a positive development.

"While expectations are very low, and it seems very unlikely that there actually will be concrete results today, the fact that they are beginning something leaves a little crack in the door for some hope," Baskin said.

The meeting at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry will bring together Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Molcho, and representatives of the Quartet of Middle East mediators.

The quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - has given Israel and the Palestinian Authority until January 26 to submit proposals on territory and security that would clear the way for the resumption of talks.

Palestinians officials say that without a breakthrough on negotiations, they will turn to alternative measures.

BCL men 'attack' JnU demonstrators

Activists of Jagannath University unit of pro-government Bangladesh Chhatra League allegedly attacked a procession of Progotishil Chhatra Jote on Tuesday.

The students had been demonstrating against a decision to charge first-year undergraduate students Tk 5,000 in development fee during admission.

"Chhatra League launched the attack in an attempt to foil our demonstration," Chhatra Front president Shariful Chowdhury told

At least six students, including himself, have been injured in the attack, he said.

The other injured are Chhatra Front organising secretary Morshed Khan, and members of the Front, 'Azad', 'Titli', 'Mishu' and Chhatra Federation activist 'Sania'.

Shariful alleged that the ruling Awami League's student front activists also harassed Chhatra Front member 'Titli'.

According to reports, activists of Progotishil Chhatra Jote –a platform of Chhatra Front, Chhatra Federation, Chhatra Moitri and Chhatra Union – started gathering in front of the university's bank from around 10am to stop first-year admission procedure. After police were deployed about half an hour later, the situation cooled down.

Around 12:30pm, Chhatra League supporters took out their own procession and tried to drive away leaders and supporters of Chhatro Jote demonstrating near the bank. They attacked them when they failed to do so, eye-witnesses said.

Jagannath College was upgraded to university during the tenure of BNP-led four-party alliance in 2005. Then an article [Article 27 (4)] was kept in the Jagannath University Act-2005, according to which the public university has to fund operations on its own after five years.

In September last year, students took to the streets against the university's decision to increase various fees. Later, the prime minister announced that the government will continue funding the university.

Progotishil Chhatra Jote leaders say the university authorities are planning to impose full education costs on the students. The admission fee has risen to Tk 17,000 after years of increase and many poor but deserving students are missing out on the opportunity of studying here

Representatives of Progotishil Chhatra Jote had submitted a memorandum to the vice chancellor in this regard on Dec 11. 

Mirpur MP 'manhandles' journalist

Ruling Awami League MP Kamal Ahmed Majumder allegedly beat up a journalist at Monipur High School in the city's Mirpur on Tuesday.

Private TV channel RTV said Majumder attacked their staff reporter Aparna Singha who went to the school in the morning to make a report on an allegation of charging extra fees for admission.

The MP, however, denied the allegation saying he 'only pushed aside' the reporter.

Guardians of Monipur High School students had been protesting against a decision to charge Tk 20,000 for development fees beside the government-fixed Tk 5,000 admission fees, RTV joint news editor Aktar Hossain said.

Majumder was scheduled to discuss the issue with the guardians in the morning, he added.

"Aparna Singha tried to interview Kamal Majumder when he went to the school. The MP pushed aside our reporter that time. At one stage, he assaulted her," Aktar said.

He said Majumder swore at Aparna.

Another RTV reporter Osman Gani Babul, who witnessed the incident, said Aparna received injury in her hand because of the 'beating'.

Majumder told, "When I went to join the meeting with the guardians, the RTV reporter told the cameraman, 'Take picture of that guy.' I only pushed her aside. Why should I beat her?"

"The reporter threatened the headmaster of the school after she entered a classroom without permission," he said.

Mirpur Police Station officer-in-charge Qazi Wazed Ali said they went to the spot hearing the incident. "The situation is calm now," he added.