- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Leaving Bangladesh

The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh has been cajoling, warning and lecturing civilian and military leaders about the need to restore democracy and guarantee political rights, as she prepares to leave the South Asian nation for her next assignment in Iraq.

In an interview published yesterday, Ambassador Patricia Butenisurged the military to stay out of politics and expressed confidence in assurances from Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed that the army is interested only in helping the current caretaker government, operating under a state of emergency, prepare for elections.

“Certainly we do not want to see military involvement in politics. I have made this point before that the military should not take any sort of political role,” Miss Butenis told the United News of Bangladesh.

“Again, we have been pretty straightforward saying that any military personnel can retire or resign from the military and decide to take up politics. That is their business, but a direct role in politics will be a mistake.”

Bangladesh has had a history of military coups and political violence since declaring independence from Pakistan in 1971 and sparking a civil war that, according to some estimates, left 1 million dead and 10 million refugees who fled to India.

The current political crisis is rooted in deep suspicions between the two major political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party. The BNP government ended its term in October, and, in accordance with the constitution, a caretaker administration took over to prepare for parliamentary elections in January.

However, the Awami League and 18 other opposition parties accused the BNP of planning to rig the elections and organized widespread street protests, which led the caretaker government to impose emergency powers that include nightly curfews and a ban on political meetings. The government also postponed the elections.

Miss Butenis last week called for the removal of restrictions on indoor political rallies as a step toward the restoration of democracy.

“The longer the ban is kept in place, the more difficult it would be to enact reforms. It is as simple as that,” she told reporters after meeting with Ameer Matiur Rahman Nizami of the Jamaat-i-Islami political party.

In a speech to the American Alumni Association of Bangladesh, she called on the government to set a date for elections.

“We strongly support the caretaker government’s commitment to promote reforms and to hold free, fair and credible elections as soon as possible,” she said.

Miss Butenis, who previously served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, is scheduled to leave Bangladesh on Saturday to take a senior position at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Armenia and Iran

The United States is looking suspiciously at the growing energy cooperation between Armenia and Iran, according to the top U.S. diplomat in Armenia.

“We have passed on our concerns about this issue to the Armenian government,” Anthony Godfrey, the charge d’affaires, told reporters in the capital, Yerevan.

He has urged Armenia to use its influence to pressure Iran into opening its nuclear-power program to international inspectors to make sure the theocratic government is not developing nuclear weapons. As a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran pledged not to build a nuclear bomb.

Armenia pursued an energy deal with Iran because of the economic blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan over the Armenian occupation of the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

In March, Armenia and Iran opened a 93-mile pipeline to provide 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas to Armenia under a 20-year contract. Armenia plans to pay for the natural gas from the sale of electricity produced at a nuclear power plant.

Iran and Armenia also announced plans to develop a hydroelectric plant on the Aras River, which runs along the border between the two countries.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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