Vol. 5 Num 712 Tue. May 30, 2006  
Front Page

Bangladesh turned into arms smuggling route
Experts critical of govt's indifference

Militant and insurgent outfits in South Asian region are now using Bangladesh as a transit route for smuggling weapons, turning the region into a large market of arms trade but the government still remains indifferent, experts and former army personnel said at a press conference yesterday.

The country's south and south-east regions, especially Chittagong, Khagrachhari, Bandarban, Sandwip, Haluaghat and emerging char islands are often used for transportation of illegal small arms, and it encourages the use of illegal small arms and violence across the country, they said.

Referring to a research report of Bangladesh Development Partnership Center (BDPC), former army personnel said at least 400,000 illegal and 25,000 licensed guns are used across the country for criminal activities.

South Asia Partnership (SAP) Bangladesh in collaboration with International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), organised the conference at the Dhaka Reporters Unity as part of marking Global Week of Action Against Small Arms 22-29 May 2006.

At least 128 syndicates in the country have engaged in criminal activities including gun running, human trafficking, extortion, prostitution, illegal occupation of land, especially for shrimp cultivation and real estate business, smuggling of contraband items, drug peddling, drug dealing, money laundering, election rigging and tender snatching, Major General (rtd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim said.

"More than six lakh operatives use four lakh illegal guns and forty percent of them are under 18, which is very alarming for the nation," he said reading out the keynote paper.

More than one person generally uses one gun and many guns are rented out to different parties on various occasions, he added.

Militants and insurgent outfits of neighbouring countries have chosen the country's south and south-eastern region as a transit route for arms smuggling business because Bangladesh government and its law enforcers are yet to be aware about these illegal business.

South Asian region has now turned into a large illegal arms trading centre due to the conflict between India and Pakistan, as well as internal violence in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Nepal, and Myanmar, Brigadier General (rtd) Shakhawat Hossain said.

The tense situation contributes to the demand and supply of small arms and explosive devices in the region.

Civilians are the largest category of gun owners in the South Asian region, accounting for far more weapons than the military, police and insurgents, he said.

Out of some 75 million firearms in South Asia, only 12 million are legal while there are 63 million illegal firearms in civilian hands, he said, adding that India and Pakistan civilians overwhelmingly account for 40 million and 20 million weapons while civilians in Nepal and Sri Lanka own the remaining three million.

The data on how many civilians in Bangladesh use illegal arms are not available, he said.

He also said that a total of 192 light weapons, 44,979 bullets, 199 bombs and 11 kg explosive materials were recovered in 2005 while 79 light weapons, 25,442 bullets and 149 bombs were seized in the first five months of this year.

Around two million people are engaged in running arms and crime networks in the world, said Nadira Mallik, programme coordinator of SAP Bangladesh.

To create mass awareness, they have organised community consultation on illegal small arms at six divisions of the country, she said.

The government should take stern action against the illegal arms traders, Jatiya Nirbachon Parjobekkhon Parishad (Janipop) Chairman Prof Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah said.