<%-- Page Title--%> Newsnotes <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 149 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 9, 2004

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A National Security Nightmare
While the country's law and order has been deteriorating sharply, 10 truckloads of arms, including submachine guns, AK-47 rifles, rocket shells and launchers, around 2000 grenades and 3 lakh bullets, have been seized by the Karnaphuli police in Chittagong on April 2. Acting on a tip-off, the police hemmed in the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited jetty, where MV Khawja and FT Amanat were unloading around 1,500 wooden boxes full of explosives. The crew of the two vessels and most of the 150 porters fled the area sensing police presence; the police, however, were able to arrest five workers engaged in unloading the cache.

Though many have described it as the largest ever arms haul in Bangladesh, the country is no stranger to such incidents. In fact, in June last year a large number of firearms, ammunition and high frequency devices were discovered from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the same year on June 27, in one of the biggest arms hauls in years, police recovered over 1 lakh bullets from an abandoned truck in a remote village in Bogra. Police later arrested the truck-owner Jogesh Dev Barman with alleged close ties to the Tripura Co-operatives Association, widely known as the front organisation of a north-east Indian armed group. November 30 that year the police recovered four AK-47 rifles, two revolvers, 20 hand grenades, four time bombs, 1,000 AK-47 bullets, 2kg plastic explosives and sophisticated walkie-talkies after a gunfight with a criminal outfit; this time in Badda.

The police, however, have failed to make any significant headway. It is being widely perceived that a number of South Asian extremist groups have been using the country to smuggle weapons. The government's indifference to reign in the smugglers and insurgent outfits have been giving birth to a national security nightmare.

Rapid Action Battalion Saga
The government has recently decided to take the superintendents of police (SP) out of its much-hyped Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). The decision was meant to quell a bitter dispute over precedence of ranks of military officials over those of the police. The project, which has already consumed over Tk 402 crore from the treasury, got a jolt when the SPs became aggrieved by a previous government decision that had placed them under the command of wing commanders and lieutenant colonels. In fact the make up of this so-called elite force has made an army major equal to a SP. According to newspaper reports, four RAB battalions will initially operate in Dhaka and one each in Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna. The idea -- seen as the government's last ditch attempt to improve law and order-- has drawn widespread flak from general people. Many have seen it as an attempt to recreate the infamous Rakhhi Bahini that used to operate during the forlorn days of Sheik Mujib's rule.

Load Shedding Causing Damage in Agriculture Production
No sooner had the summer set in than the load shedding came back in full fury. Since the mid-March not a single day has gone by without the load shedding making its daily round in each areas in Dhaka. So, it's quite imaginable the situation outside Dhaka. An Ittefaq report on April 2 has brought about the serious fallout of the continual load shedding in the Northern Bangladesh Chapainawabgonj, Rajshahi, Naogaon, Dinajpur etc. Though the farmers in these area are supposed to get at least 18 hours of uninterrupted electricity in many areas the supply is even less than 6 hours in many of these areas. Consequently, more than 6,000 irrigation pumps run by electricity in this vast area are running much less than their capacity because of load shedding. The crisis has been compounded further with the addition of low-voltage, which have burnt at least 445 motors and 500 starters in the area. Some of the local electricity offices have come under attack from farmers in the area, who are facing the danger of losing out a huge amount of their productions because of faults they are not in any way responsible. The severe load shedding is set to destroy a total of 4 lakh and 70 thousand metric tons of crops this year if the load shedding in that area cannot be brought down immediately.
Meanwhile, the killing of Yassin threatens to make the situation from bad to worse, as Hamas vowed to avenge the death of their revered leader. The threat put the Israeli forces on high alert. And there is widespread speculation that the next target would be Yasser Arafat.

JCD Goes on Beating
Jatiyatabad Chhatra Dal(JCD), the student wing of BNP, which has taken the job of beating up BNP's political opponents upon itself, has continued its "good" work. Their recent target was the agitating student activists belonging to different student organisations like Chhatra League, Chhatra Union (BCU) and Chhatra Front, who were demanding the resignations of VC and Proctor of Chittagong University, for what they termed, their failure to ensure security of the general students. When activists of the different student wings under the banner of Chhatra Jote brought out a huge procession on April 01, the JCD goons led by JCD President MD Selim, General Secretary Milton and others and armed with iron rods which they collected from the nearby construction site, swooped on them and beat them up mercilessly. A few dozen agitating students were severely injured including Selina Sultana Sumi, general Secretary of Chhatra Union who got both of her wrists broken. As always, the police were standing nearby, and remained silent. However, when they got hold of one of the agitating students, Nipun, president of the BCU, they beat him up with the Rifle butt.


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