Firearms flood in thru' porous Satkhira border |
Shariful Islam back from Satkhira
Gangs of gunrunners openly smuggle firearms into Bangladesh, making the Satkhira borders with India porous with bribes to 'mammonish law-enforcers', underworld operatives and local people said.
International gunrunning syndicates buy the firearms cheap from eastern Indian state of West Bengal, especially from its capital Kolkata and Bardhaman, and sell them at higher prices in restive southwestern region in Bangladesh.
From Satkhira, Khulna and Jessore, the heart of 'wild southwest' where outlaw violence has risen to a new high in recent years, the arms fan out to local shrimp farms and other parts of Bangladesh, including capital Dhaka.
"We've intelligence that firearms are being smuggled into the country through Satkhira borders," said Major Ashraful Hossain, acting commanding officer of the 12th Battalion of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).
He said his border guards try their best to check the influx of arms in a claim contradicted by local residents and gunrunners, who say part of their profit goes to 'mammonish BDR and police forces'.
"We seize arms entering the country," Major General Jahangir Alam Chowdhury, director general of the BDR, told The Daily Star last night.
"We take action against corrupt BDR personnel," he said.
"Don't you see the roles of other agencies?" he said.
A large chunk of the arms end up in the hands of 'shrimp lords', owners of farms who buy them and arm their gangs to guard the brackish, marshy enclosuers, from 'shrimp pirates' or gangs of the fish looters who raid farms in fishing seasons.
The 'shrimp pirates' and outlaws are also big buyers of the smuggled arms.
The BDR and police personnel, stationed on the poorly demarcated borders that run along small rivers and through plains, stand by as smugglers carry arms into Bangladesh.
And officially, they remain 'ignorant about the gunrunners and their regular routes'.
"I'm running arms for over three years, but I've never been challenged by BDR or police who stand close by," a smuggler told this correspondent who approached him as a buyer in a village in Kaliganj upazila on February 3.
The scrawny, short and swarthy young man with sprinkling eyes runs his lucrative business without fear and tells the tale of swimming across the Isamoti with arms amid a stepped-up BDR watch.
"They are our friends, not enemies," he said. "Our money talks."
A top BDR official agrees to the suggestion: "The Field Security (FS) of the BDR as well as other intelligence agencies like the NSI (National Security Intelligence) and SB (Special Branch of police) lack honest manpower who would serve the nation, not the smugglers."
People in the bordering villages say Bangladesh arms syndicates have established good networks with their Indian counterparts and share intelligence of the police, BDR and Border Security Force (BSF), Indian border guards.
Rafiqul Islam, superintendent of Satkhira police, said it was tough to check influx of arms through the Satkhira border, stretching from Kolaroa to the Sundarbans mangrove forest, with the inadequate number of police and BDR personnel.
"When we get information, we raid and try to arrest the smugglers," he said.
Smugglers of essentials including sugar, clothes and onions also work as small-time gunrunners.
Local residents, watching operations of smugglers for years, say a section of people has emerged as middlemen on the borders who negotiate the bribe deals between smugglers and law enforcers.
BDR personnel and the middlemen count the number of smugglers in line with the agreement to ensure that no other people cross the border without giving them 'their share'.
"The police and BRD men never mind what the smugglers carry, they just care for their money," said a man, believed to be close to a smuggling racket.
ARMS TRAVEL BY BUS
"Strapping firearms to our body, we carry the arms to Dhaka and elsewhere," said the gunrunner whom this correspondent approached posing as a buyer.
"Once I used to supply machines (arms) to a dealer in Lalmatia in the capital who gave me shelter and bought me security there."
He said five of his firearms, carrying a street value of Tk 1.2 lakh, were seized by the Criminal Investigation Department of police from a computer shop at Kazipara in Dhaka last month.
He said he also supplied at least seven firearms to the landless in Satkhira.
Some 5,000 of the landless, locally called as Bhumihins, settled on about 6,500 bighas of government land in Kaliganj and Debhata upazilas in Satkhira in 1998 and shrimp farms owners say they have taken 'shrimp piracy' as a living.
Local residents say gunrunners mainly smuggle four types of firearms into Bangladesh: Kamare or Chhakka, pistols made by blacksmiths or in iron workshops or local engineering workshops; Auto-Nakka, a revolver with a nine-room magazine; Double-shutter gun, used to hit a short-range target by pulling half the bolt and a distant target by pulling the full bolt; and seven-gear sawn-off rifle.
Sources close to gunrunners say a Chakka sells at about Tk 3,500 in Satkhira and at about Tk 5,000 in Dhaka and a Nakka sells at about Tk 12,000 to 13,000 in West Bengal, at about Tk 35,000 to Tk 40,000 in Satkhira and at about Tk 50,000 to Tk 55,000 in Dhaka.
A shutter gun carries a street value of about Tk 1,500 to 1,800 in India and at about Tk 4,000 in Bangladesh. A seven-gear sawn-off rifle sells at about Tk 18,000 in Satkhira and at about Tk 45,000 in Dhaka.
They said scores of arms manufacturing engineering workshops have thrived in small bordering towns in India, keeping an eye on Bangladesh markets.
Gangs also buy arms from Ghatakpukur and Rajarhat in Kolkata and from Bardhaman for sale in Bangladesh.