Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
Vol. 4 Num 302 Sun. April 04, 2004  
   
Front Page


Arms cache unloaded in 'presence of police'
Urea factory effort leads to seizure; gunrunners, workers hide unchallenged


Smugglers were unloading the largest ever arms cache on the Karnaphuli coast in Chittagong on Friday with 'help from local police', a witness told journalists in a major twist to the seizure top intelligence officials credited to tip-off from their foreign counterparts.

Kazi Abu Tayeeb, ansar commander at Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited jetty, the scene of the arms seizure, alleged 10 truckloads of weapons were being offloaded in front of Karnaphuli Police Station's Officer-in-Charge Ahadur Rahman, Sergeant Alauddin, Havilder Golam Rasul and Constable Mohiuddin.

Describing the offloading at the state-owned urea factory office in the presence of its Managing Director Mohsinuddin Talukder, Tayeeb said: "A crane-truck appeared on the jetty at 11:45pm on Thursday."

Ansar member Minazur Rahman challenged the truck driver for rumbling his vehicle into the restricted jetty.

As they were quarrelling, a trawler moored to the jetty, two young men showed up and asked 30 to 40 workers, who gathered soon after the vessel berthed, to plunge into operation.

The young men, constantly talking by their mobile phones, were making 'fishy arrangements' with the policemen.

The workers used a mesh net atop the crane to unload the cargo of weapons.

Tayeeb rushed to the factory at 12:30am receiving a call from Mizanur and informed Mobin Hossain Khan, assistant security officer, of the developments.

Mobin immediately contacted Mohsinuddin who asked top officials of Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) to intervene.

The security officer said he reached the scene at 2:00am to see policemen supervising the cargo unloading from two trawlers (the other vessel berthed in the meantime).

As he demanded explanation from the OC, the police officer said in a show of indifference if Mobin wanted to drink tea from the nearest stall.

The cargo handling stopped only when a huge contingent of police led by CMP Deputy Commissioner Abdullahil Baki reached the spot at about 4:00am, factory officials said.

The two young men along with the workers melted away in front of the police reinforcement.

Earlier, top intelligence officials said the weapons were bound for a foreign destination in a suggestion that appeared acceptable to former generals.

Their revelation contrasts the claim of State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar who on Friday said: "We believe these modern firearms were intended to run subversive activities in Bangladesh, as the consignment landed here."

He termed the gunrunning a "big conspiracy" and did not rule out any link to the April 30 deadline of the main opposition Awami League for unseating the government.

Intelligence agents said the tip-off came a few days ago, adding Bangladesh was being used as a transit route.

They suggested the consignment was possibly heading towards Assam in restive northeast India from the golden triangle or Southeast Asia.

In their reaction to The Daily Star, the former generals said the haul was sophisticated enough for use in a conventional war and no terrorist outfit in Bangladesh was used to such weapons.

SECURITY BEEFED UP

Babar held a meeting with top home ministry and police officials yesterday to beef up national security.

A team led by Criminal Investigation Department's deputy inspector general for Chittagong was formed bringing together members of other intelligence agencies to strengthen security in the port city.

Four police teams were dispatched to Chittagong and a joint drive was being considered in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The arms and ammunition seized by the police and coastguard were handed over to the army after preparation of a seizure list yesterday.

Chittagong police said they were trying to hunt down the owners of the trucks and trawlers used in the haul transport.

PUBLIC OUTCRY

The arms seizure in Chittagong sparked a torrent of criticism of security measures and triggered widespread speculations.

In Chittagong, wild speculations ran on the origin of the arms, their destination and objectives of the operatives and outfits collecting the cache.

Panic-stricken locals asked how the weapons reached the jetty evading naval force and coastguard watch.

Babar told newspersons on Friday that fishing and cargo vessels carried the cache, hidden under sacks of salt, rice and husk.

The fertiliser factory authorities said the jetty of the key point installation long remained quite unprotected.

Authorities constructed the jetty to smoothly run the factory's transport through waterways. But vested quarters were mooring their vessels to the jetty and along the bank without approval from the authorities concerned, they said.

Loading and unloading of cargo continued there without any supervision of the port or customs officials.

General Manager (Administration) of the factory ABM Nowsher in a letter last year asked the higher police authorities to take action against illegal berthing.

The letter said apart from posing serious threat to the security and safety of the port city, illegal berthing was also harming the jetty and movement of vessels carrying the factory products by blocking the river channel.

But his request went unheard, leaving the jetty completely unprotected and suitable for use by international syndicates of gunrunners.

LAX MONITORING

Lax monitoring of vessels also exposed Bangladesh to security threats, sources in Chittagong said, adding MV Khawaja and FT Amanat seized for carrying the illegal weapons could not produce proper documents.

According to the latest survey of the Mercantile Marine Department in 1999, Zakir Ahmad, son of Kabir Ahmad of Premasia village in Karnaphuli upazila, owned Amanat. The vessel contradicted the structure recorded by the department.

FV Khawaja, owned by Hazi Sobhan of Shah Mirpur village in Karnaphuli upazila, also defied the approved structure.

But the vessels changed hands and police were looking for the current owners.

Police yesterday took the five workers arrested on the scene to the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate Shafiqur Rahman and the court remanded them in police custody for four days.


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