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     Volume 5 Issue 114 | September 29, 2006 |

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Pirates VS Police!

Morshed Ali Khan

Nine heavily armed undercover policemen crouched on a twenty-foot-long trawler in the pitch-dark night of a Friday early this month, on the river Turag at Aminbazar. Their destination -- the vast water body along the river Turag and Buriganga in the south, near Shoalmachi and Basila. Over the last two months, almost every night river pirates have unleashed a reign of terror, robbing innocent villagers and beating up many commuting to and from Dhaka on trawlers.

The part of the river where the pirates were active was the confluence of the Turag and Buriganga and also the borders of Savar, Mohammadpur, Hazaribagh and Shymoli police stations. Reports of the piracies reached all the police stations but only one-- Savar police station. The police moved in to face the pirates in a way that villagers later said they had never seen.

Armed with automatic rifles, pistols, walkie-talkies and torches, the young policemen, led by second officer Sub-inspector Mortaza Kabir moved like commandos. As the packed trawler proceeded slowly towards the destination at around ten p.m., some of Mortaza's men sat with the boatmen to make the party look like any other ordinary vessel.

Soon the trawler was in the vastness of the water body, heading for an unknown spot, where the pirates would be lured to attack. The darkness restricted the vision but the bright watery sheet and the city lights in the horizon opened up the possibility of spotting any moving object in the distance. The police trawler now circled the danger spot, its tough crewmen praying for the miscreants to attack.

A dark cloud suddenly formed in the western sky with frequent lightening. But the pirates were nowhere to be seen. Had they got a tip-off? It was impossible. Mortaza was careful. The trawler on which the party was travelling was hired from miles away and for other reasons. Even his men did not know much about the operation.

At around 11 p.m. the men decided to stop at a dark spot overlooking the river and wait. The clouds sent a sudden shower, drenching the eager men. Suddenly, clattering noise of an approaching trawler thrilled the men, who quickly rechecked their weapons in high alert. Five shadowy figures stood on the trawler that directly headed towards the waiting policemen. About 20 feet away, one of the four men lit a powerful beam on the policemen. Another ten feet, one of the policemen, out of sheer instinct, whispered, “ be careful it may be police.” As soon as he had finished, Mortoza and his men switched on their powerful torches on the intruders.

With three local thugs, two pot-bellied uniformed policemen with shotguns in their hands stood on the trawler terrified and visibly shaking. They looked so frightened before the nine plainclothes policemen, that no one asked a question about the identities of the men in plainclothes. “We are patrolling the river,” said one of the local thugs and quickly left the spot.

Later, local people said that the two policemen were assigned by the Hazaribagh police station to patrol the Waaspur ghat, about a kilometer downstream. “They were escorting the thugs to the Shoalmachi Bazaar on some business,” said the boatman on which the uniformed policemen and their men were traveling.

For Mortoza and his men it was a disappointing night. They were now completely drenched. Mortoza called off the operation and headed towards Aminbazar, about seven kilometres upstream. For the next seven days there were no reports of any piracy. But the pirates returned after a week. Mortoza is now trying to set up a police post in the area.

The author is Special Correspondent for The Daily Star, who accompanied the Savar policemen during the unsuccessful operation.

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