Monday, January 30, 2012

On transit, Dhaka set to go by GATT

Bangladesh will not impose any transit fees on India and will rather collect all charges permitted under GATT, a prime minister's advisor said on Monday.

"There is no such term (as) transit fee in 'books', and the government should strictly follow the principles laid down in GATT and transport economics," Mashiur Rahman, who advises prime minister Sheikh Hasina on economic affairs, told

"We will evaluate all admissible charges stipulated in GATT and add up all charges to fix a single figure," he said. "Our plan is to make a transit deal with India following international practice to fix admissible charges stipulated in GATT."

He said the amount would be linked with the volume of cargo and long-term business prospect.

"If the government can assure that India can enjoy the service for long-term with quality service ensured, the amount will be higher," he explained.

Rahman, however, had said at a seminar in October last year that transit and transshipment fee would be fixed in the next renewal meeting of protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, to be held before this March 31.

Transit has become a thorny issue between Dhaka and Delhi, especially after the neighbouring countries failed to strike an interim Teesta deal during Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit last September.


On Monday, advisor Mashiur Rahman said it would be inefficient for Bangladesh to charge Indian cargoes on a per-tonne-per-kilometre basis. He said the country should rather charge a lump sum amount.

"When determining the lump sum figure, all admissible charges allowed by GATT will be taken into consideration," he explained.

"We have to evaluate efficiency of operations, stability of the friendly Bangladesh-Indian regimes, conformity of GATT principles and transport economics before taking any transit decision."

About the Jan 28 meeting at the Indian prime minister's office, where it was decided to 'consider providing additional money, if need be, to ensure night navigation facilities on Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route', Rahman remarked, "Why should we say no if they want to give us more money?"

India pays Bangladesh Tk 55 million each year to maintain navigability of transit routes.

The meeting also decided that the Indian foreign ministry would try to extend the period of Inland Trade and Transit Protocol beyond March 2012, when it comes for renewal to provide longer certainty to vessel operators, according to a media release of the Indian PMO.

"Further efforts shall be made for early completion of Ashuganj multi-modal port by Bangladesh and its regular use as a transit port," the release said.

Dhaka signed protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (IWTT) in New Delhi in 1972. As per the protocol, Indian cargoes can travel from one part of the country to another through Bangladesh.


Rahman said the shipping ministry is negotiating with its counterpart to renew the IWTT protocol. The ministry, he said, would consult the core committee's report before taking any decision.

The core committee on transit formed by the government has submitted its final report.

Asked about regular transit movement, he said it was never stopped. "There were several trial runs on multi-modal transit but now there is no barrier to regular movement."

The first commercial transshipment under trial run was held through Ashuganj port on Sept 28 last year. 

Irate ICT adjourns proceedings

A stumbling prosecution lost in its own documents prompted an irate war crimes tribunal to adjourn the proceedings for the day soon after it returned from a half-hour recess on Monday.

Earlier, the International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, was adjourned for half-an-hour, with the prosecution directed to organise its documentation.

The tribunal was expected to hear deposition of witnesses in a case against Jamaat-e-Islami executive council member Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

Sayedee has been indicted on 20 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, arson and loot.

According to the prosecution, Mohammad Ezabuddin Miah, 39, an assistant librarian of Bangla Academy, was to have confirmed for it the seizure of several exhibits regarding the case.

However, even post-recess, the prosecution faced the same problems as it had before the adjournment. While the prosecutor appeared to be utterly lost in the pages of his own volume, the defence lawyers proceeded to help the tribunal, even suggesting where the court should be looking.

At one stage, addressing the prosecution, Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed commented, "The defence is helping us!"

When prosecutor Saidur Rahman referred to another page for marking exhibits seized on a certain date, tribunal chairman Nizamul Huq found that his volume did not correspond with that referred by the prosecutor.

Justice Huq then turned a few more pages, going back and forth, as senior prosecution counsel Syed Haider Ali had suggested before the recess, but failed to find the seizure list.

Addressing Saidur Rahman, Justice Huq asked, "Did you see if the pages matched?"

As Saidur Rahman replied he had, Huq gave his volume to a bench officer who handed it to the prosecutor. The judge said, "Show me."

Saidur Rahman had referred to page 3,264 but that page had an article of the daily 'Azad' in the volume that Huq was provided with. The prosecutor appeared flustered and hurried back to his senior colleague Syed Haider Ali, who, for his part, failed to make much headway with the document.

Syed Haider then called for an end to witness testimony for the day and marking of exhibits.

The defence cross-examination was brief.

Counsel Mizanul Islam asked Bangla Academy staffer Ezabuddin to confirm the headline of one report dated May 8, 1971 which said: "Pirojpur Mahakuma Peace Committee formed", which Ezabuddin confirmed.

He also confirmed, upon the defence counsel's query, that news items seized from him were dated approximately 1970-72, from around the time of the Liberation War, and none of their headlines mentioned Sayedee's name.

Shortly afterwards, the proceedings came to a close as prosecution's next witness, Madhusudan Gharami, was not allowed by his physician to testify, owing to his physical condition.

Haider Ali submitted that he was hopeful of producing the witness on Tuesday.

The court then adjourned for the day, almost 30 minutes before the scheduled time for lunch recess.


Earlier, Ezabuddin's testimony in the morning was interrupted several times as the volumes of documents provided to the tribunal and Sayedee's defence team did not correspond with that of the prosecution. The prosecution counsels were able to locate the right page for the first exhibit after a considerable time, much to the annoyance of tribunal chairman Huq.

Once the tribunal had located the seizure records of an issue of 'Azad' dated February 3, 1972, tribunal member Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed asked prosecutor Saidur Rahman whether the other exhibits were in order.

"How many exhibits do you have for this witness?" he asked, to be told that there were seven.

This drew a wry response from the judge: "Is it going to be like this for all of them? For one, we can take this trouble but this cannot be the case for every exhibit."

Huq said the copy provided to him was the original and therefore the other copies had to correspond with that.

However, the second exhibit proved to be more elusive than the first. While the tribunal chief could locate the document in his volume in one page, the defence said they could not locate it all, and the only record regarding that article was one of custody but not seizure.

Zaheer Ahmed's copy was also incomplete. "It may be acceptable if my copy is not in order but you must make sure the defence has a proper set," he told the prosecutors-in-general.

Saidur Rahman kept going back and forth from the witness stand to his podium, checking his volume, while the investigation officer went to the bench officers in a bid to locate the right page for the judges.

Prosecutor Haider Ali's arrival hardly helped the matters.

At one point, Haider Ali, investigation officer of the case Mohammad Helaluddin and prosecutor Saidur Rahman huddled together at the podium, seemingly at a loss over what to do.

This again drew a comment from tribunal chief Huq: "Mr Haider Ali, what can be done?"

Haider Ali suggested that they try looking for the specific record one or two pages before or after the page that the prosecution was referring to. At this, Huq retorted that this could be acceptable only as an exception but not for so many exhibits.

Justice Huq then adjourned the proceedings for half-an-hour, directing the prosecution to get their documents in order for all exhibits it wanted to have marked on the day.

Defence counsel Mizanul Islam, meanwhile, appealed to the court that the prosecution be also directed to provide with copies of the missing documents.

"Of course! That is what I meant by getting the documents in order," said Huq.

He, however, reminded the defence team that this was only the first case and hence could naturally be faced with certain difficulties and slips from all sides.


Earlier in the day, the proceedings began with an application from the defence counsels pleading for privileged communication with Jamaat guru and former party chief Ghulam Azam, who was denied bail and sent to jail on January 11.

The tribunal granted the plea fixing Feb 4, Feb 11 and Feb 18. The court said two of the three counsels mentioned in the application would be allowed to meet the former Jamaat chief on those days.

According to the prosecution, Azam was instrumental in mobilising the party and several other organisations — such as the Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams — to thwart and oppose the liberation efforts in 1971.

Huq exclaimed at not finding the usual names on the list of three counsels who would meet Ghulam Azam. "No Razzaqs or Tajuls?" asked the tribunal chief, looking at M Tajul Islam, who was present briefly.

Sayedee's case is the first one to proceed to the trial stage at the tribunal. On September 4, the prosecution proposed framing of charges against him on 31 counts for crimes against humanity and genocide. On October 3, the tribunal indicted Sayedee on 20 counts.

The tribunal also sent Jamaat's former chief Ghulam Azam to jail on January 11. His indictment hearing, as well as that of the present Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, is scheduled for February 15.

Besides Sayedee, Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed and assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party's standing committee member and MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury have been detained on war crimes charges.

The tribunal granted conditional bail to former BNP lawmaker and minister Abdul Alim on March 31, 2011. The bail was further extended on January 16, ordering him to be present in the court on March 15 when the prosecution has been directed to submit formal charges against the BNP leader. 

Nigeria's Boko Haram suspected in Kano police attack

Two civilians have died in an attack on a police station in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, police say.

A BBC correspondent says that gunmen stormed the station, throwing explosives and an hour-long shoot-out ensued.

The gunmen are suspected to be Islamist militants from Boko Haram, which recently carried out multiple bomb attacks in Kano, killing 185 people.

Police also say they shot at a bus near another police post on Monday.

There are no details of casualties in this early morning incident, which occurred near the same police station in the city's Mandawari area where an officer was killed on Friday night in another suspected Boko Haram attack.

The BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar in Kano says the Sunday evening attack on a police station in the Naibawa district, on the outskirts of Kano, happened just before the start of the dusk-to-dawn curfew.

"We are scared. The police and Boko Haram members are battling each other and there is gunfire everywhere," local resident Usman Ibrahim Bello told the Reuters news agency.

The curfew was imposed after the 20 January bombings - the most deadly since Boko Haram began its campaign of violence in 2009.

On Saturday, a Boko Haram spokesman rejected Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's recent call for open dialogue to end the conflict.

He said it was "impossible" to hold talks, after police said they had killed 11 militants in the group's base in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri over the weekend.

He also warned that if group members who had been captured in the north-western Sokoto state were not released, Kano-style attacks would be launched there. 

Boko Haram - whose name means "Western education is forbidden" - wants to establish Islamic law in Nigeria. 

It stepped up its attacks in 2011, targeting police headquarters and the UN in the capital Abuja.

In recent weeks, southerners, who are mostly Christians or animists, living in the north have been the targets of deadly attacks and thousands have fled their homes.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation is roughly evening divided between the mainly Muslim north and the south.

South Sudan: Cattle raid in Warrap state 'kills 40'

At least 40 people have been killed by armed gunmen in a cattle raid in South Sudan, officials say.

Some reports say as many as 100 people could have been killed in the attack on a camp in Warrap state.

South Sudan's interior minister accused the Sudanese government in Khartoum of arming the attackers, a militia group from neighbouring Unity State.

Tensions remain high since South Sudan seceded peacefully from Sudan in July after decades of war.

Cattle play a vital role in the lives of many South Sudanese communities. Hundreds of people have been killed in a series of tit-for-tat cattle raids in Jonglei state in recent weeks.

An official in Warrap state told the Paris-based Sudan Tribune newspaper that villages belonging to the Luac Jang ethnic group in Tong East county came under attack early on Saturday.

Madot Dut Deng, speaker of the state assembly, said he had been told by officials that more than 76 people had been killed, with several unaccounted for.

Another state official told the newspaper that local people spoke of as many as 100 people killed.

Local MP Mayiik Ayii told the BBC he had been told many children were among the dead. 

Interior Minister Alison Manani Magaya said the attack was carried out by a militia group from neighbouring Unity state, the AFP news agency reports.

"This militia group was armed by the government of Khartoum," he said, but could not name the specific group responsible.

"The number of wounded is still not clear, but they took a lot of cattle with them," he added.
Sudan has denied similar accusations in the past.

Mr Ayii said that the area which was attacked had been disarmed, leaving it vulnerable to attack by rival groups.

'Critical point'
South Sudan became independent on 9 July 2011 following decades of civil war with the north.

One legacy of the conflict is that the region is still flooded with weapons, another is the lack of roads, making it difficult for the security forces to intervene.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan to reach agreement on how to divide up their oil wealth, a key source of tension between the two. 

"The situation in Sudan and South Sudan has reached a critical point. It has become a major threat to peace and security across the region," Mr Ban said in a speech to an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

South Sudan has stopped pumping oil after Sudan confiscated shipments, saying it had not been paid for transit fees.

Sudan lost most of its oil when the south became independent but the pipelines run through Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Rally off, Khaleda seeks return of CG system

BNP chief Khaleda Zia on Monday reiterated her party's stance of not taking part in any national elections under a government led by a political party.

Calling for reinstatement of the caretaker government during her brief address to members and supporters of the opposition platform, Khaleda set off for her first mass procession since the Awami League-led 14-party coalition took office in 2009.

Beginning around 4.15pm from the party's headquarter in Naya Paltan, the procession is set to cover Kakrail, Shantinagar, Malibagh and Mouchak before finishing at Moghbazar.

"There will be no elections without a caretaker government. The BNP will not participate (in polls not held under a caretaker government," Khaleda Zia said.

Khaleda reached the party's Naya Paltan headquarters from her Gulshan office around 3:30pm.

She had earlier declared plans to hold this countrywide public procession on Jan 29. But the programme was postponed for a day after Dhaka metropolitan unit of Awami League also called for a rally the same day and the police imposed Section 144, banning all gatherings in the capital on Sunday apprehending law and order crisis.

The opposition party's processions in other metropolitan cities, including Chittagong, Rajshahi and Barisal, were also postponed after the police there imposed similar restrictions.

Metropolitan BNP member-secretary Abdus Salam said that despite various 'hurdles', the party and members of its associate organisations from all wards in the capital have joined the programme.

The police stopped traffic on one side of Naya Paltan road from around noon on Monday after BNP activists started gathering at the venue.

Within an hour, the stretch between Nightingale Restaurant intersection and Fakirapul's AGB Colony road was filled with activists dressed in bright colours, and carrying festoons and effigies of BNP founder Ziaur Rahman, his wife and party chief Khaleda Zia, and their son and BNP senior vice-president Tarique Rahman.

Members of the four-party opposition coalition and other like-minded parties are also participating in the procession.

Meanwhile, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has reportedly deployed an additional 5,000 law enforcers in the capital, equipped with water canons and riot cars to tackle any untoward incident sparked by the mass procession.

A large number of police officials have been deployed along the procession route at Naya Paltan, Khilgaon, Matijheel, Bijoy Nagar, Kakrail, Shantinagar, Malibagh, Moghbazar. Additional police members were placed in front of the BNP headquarters since 8:30am on Monday.

Additional deputy police commissioner Mehedi Hasan told that the police have taken all necessary preparations to ensure security.