- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

DHAKA, Bangladesh President Clinton yesterday became the first U.S. president to visit Bangladesh in the country's 29-year history, but he could not promise the prime minister he would deport three men accused of assassinating the nation's founder.

Some of the signs carried by Bangladeshis on the streets of Dhaka called for the United States to extradite "murderers." They were referring to three men living in America who are among those indicted for the 1975 slayings of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the nation's first prime minister.

Still, this did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands lining the street to give Mr. Clinton a hero's welcome. Schoolchildren donned their most colorful uniforms and grown-ups waved neatly painted signs hailing the arrival of "His Excellency, President Clinton."

John Kincannon, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here, said the Bangladeshis lining the 11-mile route of Mr. Clinton's motorcade were genuinely excited.

"What makes this so special is that they never get anything like this," Mr. Kincannon said. "India gets the Yeltsins and the Arafats. But Bangladesh never gets anything. It's very special for them."

Mr. Clinton's one-day stopover in this impoverished and heavily populated country was part of a weeklong tour of South Asia, undertaken to strengthen U.S. ties with India and help ease tensions between India and Pakistan.

The United States views Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim democracy that has maintained peace with its neighbors and avoided the nuclear arms race that has gripped India and Pakistan.

Just hours before today's start of Mr. Clinton's visit to India, the United States expressed "outrage" at the massacre of 35 Sikh villagers in Kashmir.

An Indian police spokesman said the massacre was carried out by Muslim militants last night in Chadisinghpoora village.

But it seemed as though the only Bangladeshis disappointed by Mr. Clinton were the 130 residents of Joypura, a tiny village that had spent months preparing for a presidential visit. The jaunt was canceled late Sunday after Secret Service agents concluded they could not guarantee the president's safety for the 20-mile helicopter ride over the dense rain forest.

"We had specific information which led us to the conclusion that traveling to the village was inadvisable," said National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, who declined to elaborate.

Mr. Clinton said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the reasoning behind his cancellation of the Joypura visit. "I regret that I could not go to the village," he said. "And I'm delighted that the villagers are coming to see me."

During a joint appearance with Mr. Clinton, Sheik Hasina Wajed, the current prime minister and daughter of the slain man, said, "We requested the president expedite the deportation of the killers of the father of the nation."

"We stressed that the killers have terrorist links and that they should not be given refuge in the greatest democracy of the world, a country that upholds the rule of law," she said.

Mr. Berger said the president told Mrs. Hasina "that we were seeking to have them removed from the United States." But the suspects were "in the midst of judicial proceedings," which another administration official said might give them political asylum.

Mr. Clinton yesterday suggested that Bangladesh and the United States negotiate an extradition treaty, but such a treaty would not apply to this case.

Asked whether he would grant amnesty to Bangladeshis who fled strife in their homeland but do not have proper documents, Mr. Clinton made no promises.

"I have done what I could to make sure that none were unfairly treated," he told a Bangladeshi journalist. "But I have to observe the laws that we have."

Still, the president did not come without largesse. He pledged $181 million in U.S. aid for food, energy and environmental projects.

"You are the king of the United States of America," one woman said in a burst of enthusiasm. The president laughed and replied: "I wish it were so."

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