Saturday, July 28, 2012


THE Prime Minister of Bangladesh has warned of possible terrorist connections among the thousands of Muslim refugees trying to enter her country from neighbouring Burma.
Sheikh Hasina said in an interview with the Sunday Express that her government had passed on concerns about a number of unidentified “incidents” to the authorities in Burma where there have been clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

The recent fighting, which has seen dozens killed, has been taking place in the western Burmese state of Rakhine.

Thousands of Rohingyas, whom the UN describes as a persecuted Islamic minority group in Buddhist Burma, have tried to flee to Bangaldesh, a secular country of 160 million mainly Muslims.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government has been turning them away at the border, angering campaign groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

However, she told the Sunday Express that the international community should investigate why so many are fleeing.

She met Foreign Secretary William Hague earlier today to discuss the situation.

In her interview with the Sunday Express, she said she was concerned about the activities of Jamaat e Islami, an Islamic fundamentalist political party that has a powerbase near the border with Burma and which has previously been accused of terror links, allegations it denies.

She alleged: “Jamaat e Islami is very much involved in terrorist activity, there’s no doubt about it and everybody 
knows that.

“As for refugees, we have a large number trying to get into our country, which is already over-populated.

“How many can we take it? We don’t want any refugees coming to Bangladesh. “The international community should try and find out why these refugees want to come.”

Asked if she was concerned that Jamaat e Islami might be encouraging some refugees, she said: “We have some intelligence reports about it. 

“My government has talked to our ambassador in Myanmar (Burma) and they have informed them about some incidents and our intelligence people and law enforcement agencies are enquiring about it. 

“We are trying to find out the reality.”

Sheikh Hasina, who attended Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, also praised Britain and Scotland Yard for helping in the fight against terrorism.

She came to power in 2008 after several years of rule by the military and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whom 
she accused of being soft on terror.

She said: “Our position is a zero-tolerance to terrorism. Many people were killed between 2001 and 2006 but but since we formed our government we will not allow anybody to use our soil to launch any type of terrorist activity.”

“But once a previous government encouraged them or nursed them, you cannot stop them overnight. 

“We have good relations especially with the British. We have a Joint Task Force on Counter Terrorism and they are training our people and that is really very helpful and I really appreciate that.”

She also thanked UK taxpayers for the £250million of foreign aid sent from Britain every year, cash she says is 
helping her vision to make Bangladesh a “middle income country” by 2021.

She already has a large-scale infrastructure improvement programme in the country and is also working with neighbouring Nepal, India and Bhutan about a massive tourism drive in the region.

She said: “We have the world’s longest naturally sandy beach (at Cox’s Bazar). 

“We want to develop that with lots of beautiful tea gardens areas, so there is a very good possibility to develop this.”

In her meeting with Mr Hague today, the Rohingyas crisis was raised alongside other issues, including trade, migration co-operation and climate change.

Mr Hague said: “The strong roots between our two countries are reflected in our trade relationship where the UK is the largest cumulative investor in Bangladesh. 

“I welcome our co-operation on a range of international issues not least climate change, where Bangladesh plays an important role.”  

Conflict over land triggered riots: Tarun Gogoi

Dismissing claims by his detractors that the ethnic violence in lower Assam was a fallout of infiltration from Bangladesh, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said Muslims in Bodoland are Indian citizens and not Bangladeshis. He said the tussle over land between Bodos and non-Bodos is the main reason behind the clashes.

Gogoi on Friday assured that the non-tribal people in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) tribal belt who have been displaced and are staying in relief camps will not lose the land they have left behind.

"The non-tribals living in the Bodo tribal belt will continue to enjoy their land rights as before," Gogoi said, clearly indicating that bone of contention in the clash was land.

"The conflict is actually conflict of interest over land. BJP is giving a communal colour to it. It is not communal. There are no Bangladeshis in the clash but Indian citizens," he said.

Generally, land in a tribal belt cannot be owned by anyone else but tribals. The Bodo Accord that was signed in 2003 departs from this practice. "There is a special provision in the Bodo Accord which allows non-tribals living in the tribal belt to have land rights. We want the Bodos to develop and move forward, but there is a large number of non-tribals in the BTAD area. This provision in the Accord can be altered only by a new Act," the chief minister said.

He also agreed to protect the land rights of the tribals (read Bodos), who have fled their homes and land in the neighbouring minority-dominated and non-tribal Dhubri district. "No one's land will be taken away. I will ensure that the land rights of the tribals in the non-tribal district are protected even if there is no law to protect them," Gogoi said. There are reports of Muslims occupying villages abandoned by Bodos in Dhubri district.

For the state government, the biggest challenge now is to send the people from relief camps back to their homes. "We have to build confidence among the people so that they return home without fear. A few people are starting to return home but panic exodus is still continuing," Gogoi said.

The number of people fleeing their homes has swelled, forcing authorities to set up more relief camps. "At the moment, we have 270 relief camps and there are 3.92 lakh people in them," chief minister Tarun Gogoi said. There were 211 relief camps and 1.7 lakh inmates on Wednesday. On Thursday, the number of camps went up to 228, while the inmates were nearly three lakh. Gogoi said the large exodus is fuelled by rumours.

The Bodos, who are the biggest tribal group among the 23 notified tribes of the state, have clashed with Muslims and Adivasis five times in the last 60 years and all the conflicts have been based on land sharing. The conflicts may have subsided but the mistrust between the groups continues to remain, which does not put to rest the possibility of clashes in future. The Bodos hardened their stand to attain a separate identity but the other co-existing communities are apprehensive of losing their land.

The non-tribal land owners in the BTAD area comprise Assamese, Koch-Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Nepalis and religion-wise, Muslims.