Rocca concerned over Ahmadiyya incidents, extra-judicial killings
US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca yesterday expressed concerns at the Ahmadiyya incidents and extra-judicial killings by the law-enforcers in Bangladesh.
She asked Dhaka to hunt down those who would undermine its long tradition of nurturing tolerance, moderation and peace, and hoped that Bangladesh would establish democratic rights and ensure justice for the people.
“We are concerned about the Ahmadiyya issue, but we know Bangladesh has a long history of (religious) harmony and tolerance. We hope that this harmony and tolerance would continue in this country. Bangladesh is known as a voice of moderation in the world and I hope that this global acclimation would be maintained,” she said.
Rocca, now on a two-day official visit, spoke at a press conference at the American Centre in Dhaka yesterday afternoon after a series of meetings with government and opposition leaders.
“We want that all terrorists are prosecuted wherever they are, whether they are in Bangladesh or elsewhere. Essentially in Bangladesh, we will certainly encourage the government to go after those who would undermine the long tradition of tolerance, moderation and peace.”
“These elements are not only a threat to the United States but also other countries where they are active.” She hailed the government ban on two Islamist groups.
She said extra-judicial killings are not supportable and the US obviously condemns the killings in so-called crossfire.
“I have talked about the issue during the meeting with the state minister for home and hoped that Bangladesh will uphold the democratic rights of the people so that they will be able to get justice.”
Rocca said that like the international community, the US also does not support extra-judicial killings.
She called for thorough investigations into all incidents of political violence, including the attempt on the life of Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina and the assassination of former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria.
During her talks with the government leaders, Rocca said she expressed the US government’s concerns about the political violence in Bangladesh. She told them that political violence can be stopped if incidents like August 21 grenade attack aimed to assassinate the opposition leader and killing of Kibria are fully investigated.
“We want to see that those investigations are done completely, properly and in a transparent way. I also expressed US government’s concern about security of the leader of the opposition…” she said.
The US Department of State official said that she had a very busy and productive day yesterday as she had meetings with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan, the leader of the opposition, State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin.
On a question about extremism in Bangladesh, Rocca said they have information about presence of extremism in Bangladesh and discussed with the government leaders about how the US government can assist Bangladesh.
“But we didn’t have any detailed discussions about US assistance to contain terrorism and extremism. We will discuss it more in future,” she said and pledged to assist Bangladesh for capacity building and extend technical support to deal with criminals.
She told reporters that she talked with the prime minister about the need for good governance and hoped that Bangladesh would improve governance. “I also talked (with her) about checking of political violence and investigations into the August 21 grenade attack and Kibria killing. I also expressed US government’s concern about the security of the opposition leader.”
Rocca said she spoke to the state minister for home about extra-judicial killings, full and proper investigation of political violence, August 21 grenade attack and assassination of Kibria.
She said that she had talks about free and fair election in the future, just concluded Chittagong City Corporation polls and August 21 grenade attack with the Hasina. “I also discussed about her security.”
On her meeting with the foreign minister, Rocca said, “We discussed about the whole range of bilateral issues, continuation of democratic process, peacekeeping operations, possible cooperation between Bangladesh and US on global issues of common concern and how Bangladesh can play a role in global peace, democracy and peacekeeping.”
Replying to a question about the opposition’s movement to bring reform to the caretaker government system and strengthen the Election Commission for free and fair polls, she said, “It’s entirely an internal matter of Bangladesh and the US government has not taken any position on this issue.”
About press reports that she had talked about issues concerning Bangladesh and Nepal with Indian government officials, Rocca thanked the reporters for raising the matter. She avoided, however, a direct reply and only said the US government has a bilateral policy for each country.
About her meeting with the Indian officials, Rocca said the US government has very good relations with India and the ties are being broadened, as the US shares a lot of common interests with India.
“We want peace, democracy and development in this region. India is world’s one of the largest democracies and we must develop our relations where there is democracy and thus our relation with India is growing,” the US official added.
On another question about India’s “big brotherly” attitude towards its neighbours including Bangladesh regarding sharing of waters of common rivers and withdrawal of waters, she said “I do not want to make any comment on bilateral issues and the US government does not want to get involved on bilateral matters of any country.”
Speaking about international terrorism and extremism, the US Assistant Secretary of State said it is the position of the US government to fight against terrorism and extremism anywhere in the world.
In this context, she said that Washington is happy to see the steps taken by the Bangladesh government to curb extremism as well as banning some Islamist groups in the country.
Asked whether she sees any improvement since her last visit to Bangladesh, she said, “I have seen some good steps… there have been steps in the right direction.”
She said the US will continue its support for flourishing democracy in Bangladesh and is quite happy to see peaceful and democratic transition after the last three elections. She hoped this democratic atmosphere would continue.
About Bangladesh-US relations, she said both countries have been enjoying excellent relations for long and lauded Bangladesh’s role in global peace moves and peacekeeping operations under the UN umbrella.
US ambassador in Dhaka Harry K Thomas and other high officials of the US embassy and the American Centre were present.
DHAKA ASKS FOR MCA INCLUSION
Bangladesh yesterday asked The US to include it in the Millennium Challenge Accord (MCA), a special US fund for the developing countries of good governance.
“We requested the US to consider including Bangladesh in the MCA or at least make it a member up to the threshold level so that the country would be at an advanced stage,” the foreign minister told journalists after an hour-long meeting with Rocca.
Under the MCA, the US core development assistance would increase by 50 percent in three years resulting in an annual increase of $5 billion by 2006. The fund will be “devoted to projects in nations that govern justly, invest in their people and encourage economic freedom”.
Morshed said the US government emphasised continuation of the democratic process in the country and dialogues between the ruling and opposition parties to remove political disputes blocking further advancement of the democratic atmosphere.
The foreign minister said the US official praised Bangladesh’s progress in the economic sector and appreciated steps taken to improve law and order.
On a question about the Ahmadiyya Muslim issue in Bangladesh, he said that the US official was informed about the government steps to ensure security of the Ahmadiyyas and that a recent court order allowed the community to publish its publications.
Turning to US assistance to Bangladesh, Morshed said he again asked for quota-free access of Bangladesh’s readymade garments to the US market.
He told Rocca that the US government is aware that two million women are employed in the garment industries of Bangladesh and that it would create an adverse social effect in case these women went jobless.
He said Rocca has been informed that Bangladesh has strengthened its caucuses in the US congress and senate and continued hectic lobbying for inclusion in the US Trade Act 2005 so that Bangladeshi products get quota-free access.
The foreign minister informed Rocca that a number of business groups regularly visit the USA and pursue matters related to quota-free access. He told her that he would make a private visit to the US in the third week of this month and talk with the US officials and congressmen about the issue.
Morshed also told journalists Rocca informed him that top US officials in their recent meetings with the Indian government had no discussion about Bangladesh and termed the media report “absolutely false”.
The foreign minister denied any discussion about Bangladesh’s alleged connection with “international terrorism” as well as fundamentalism issues.
Earlier, Rocca held meetings with Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Reaz Rahman and Foreign Secretary Mohammad Hemayetuddin.
ASSURANCE FOR POLICE MODERNISATION
Rocca assured the state minister for home of extending all possible cooperation in modernising the police and other law-enforcement agencies.
She appreciated the progress in the investigation into the Kibria killing.
The border situation and the government steps to halt trafficking in women and children also came up for discussion.