- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bangladeshi authorities are investigating “genocide” allegations against opponents of its break with Pakistan nearly 40 years ago, the nation’s ambassador to Washington said Tuesday.

The Bangladeshi government, which took office in January following elections that ended two years of emergency rule, blames former paramilitary opponents of independence for 3 million murders and 200,000 rapes during the 1971 conflict.

Ambassador M. Humayun Kabir told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that the country has been yearning to resolve the war-crimes issue for decades. But critics claim the investigation is a thinly disguised attempt to silence opponents in a nation notorious for its political instability.

The country’s younger generations - many of whom were too young to participate in or even remember the war - spurred the crusade for justice, as they are “more sensitive after experiencing the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides,” Mr. Kabir said.

“Other genocides pricked our consciences, and we now want to catch up with our past,” he said.

The government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved a bill in June to set up a tribunal and put former fighters on trial. Mrs. Hasina’s alliance controls an overwhelming majority in the parliament.

Local press reports say more than 1,700 people who opposed independence from Pakistan during the nine-month civil war have been identified as possible targets of the probe. Mr. Kabir could not confirm the reports.

He said the probe was not political and that no particular party was being targeted.

But Jamaat-i-Islami, an Islamist party that was part of a coalition that ruled Bangladesh from 2001 to 2006, claims it is the target. The party sought to keep Bangladesh part of Pakistan.

Aktar Hossain, a spokesman for the Muslim Ummah of North America, an organization consisting primarily of Bangladeshi expatriates, called the investigation an attempt to eliminate the opposition.

“The administration is not cooperating with the opposition and is trying to create a one-party parliament,” said Mr. Hossain, whose group frequently brings senior officials of Jamaat-i-Islami to Washington for meetings with administration and congressional officials.

“People of Bangladesh are concerned, and we will have millions take to the streets if the investigations continue,” Mr. Hossain said.

Crimes committed during the war were addressed in a 1973 reconciliation process, and if the issue is revisited, it should be done in front of the international community, he said.

The government put proposed changes to the 1973 legislation in parliament last week that would reopen the issue, Mr. Kabir said.

Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental human-rights-advocacy organization, sent a letter to the prime minister last week, backing the attempt to prosecute war crimes, provided the process was “fair and neutral.”

Mr. Kabir said the government investigation and any trials will meet international legal standards.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.


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