US asks govt to protect rights of Ahmadiyyas
Visiting under secy enquires about ‘crossfire’, hopes next elections will be free and fair
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas R Burns yesterday expressed concern over growing incidents of persecution of Ahmadiyyas including Friday’s attacks on an Ahmadiyya neighbourhood in Brahmanbaria.
He asked the Bangladesh government to uphold the sect’s fundamental rights.
He also said the United States hopes that the next general election in Bangladesh would be free and fair.
The visiting US under secretary made the observations after separate meetings with State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar and Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan.
The US under secretary, while calling on State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar at his office, enquired whether the government is investigating the deaths in ‘crossfire’.
“He [Burns] expressed concern over the Ahmadiyya issue,” Babar told reporters after the meeting, adding that he briefed the US delegate on the steps taken for the security of the Ahmadiyyas.
Burns described the 22-minute meeting with the state minister as satisfactory. He, however, did not answer reporters’ queries.
Babar said the visiting US secretary assured him of increasing co-operation in various sectors especially in bringing reforms in the police department.
“The US delegates asked me about the government action in response to Friday’s attacks on Ahmadiyyas. I told them that we are conducting extensive investigations to find out the persons responsible for the attacks,” Babar told reporters.
He also told the under secretary that the police have already arrested eight people in connection with the arson and bomb attacks on the Brahmanbaria Ahmadiyyas.
Babar said the US delegate had expressed satisfaction over the government investigations. “They are happy with us co-operating with Interpol and FBI (US Federal Bureau of Investigation) men, especially providing them with full access [to evidence].”
Nicholas flew in Dhaka yesterday morning on a brief visit for discussion on political climate and bilateral issues. During his about 20-hour stay in Dhaka he will talk besides the government officials, to political party leaders, and representatives of the civil society.
This was his first visit to Bangladesh since his appointment as an under secretary to the Bush administration on March 17 this year. He will leave Dhaka early this morning.
In the meeting with Babar, Burns raised also the issue of deaths in ‘crossfire’.
“I’ve told them that we have directed executive inquiry into each such incidents of death. And in most cases, the magistrates are doing the inquiries,” said Babar.
Burns was accompanied in the meeting by among others the outgoing US Ambassador in Dhaka Harry K Thomas.
Regarding Bangladesh’s stance on the US war against terrorism, Babar reiterated the government’s resolve not to let any terrorist networks, be they external or internal, use its land.
MEET WITH FOREIGN MINISTER
The US under secretary of state had an 80-minute meeting with Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan at the foreign ministry yesterday.
He told reporters after the meeting that he had excellent talks with the foreign minister.
He said he had reaffirmed during the meeting that the US would do everything necessary to maintain its close relations with Bangladesh.
When the reporters asked Burns whether US concerns in Bangladesh were discussed during meeting with Morshed, the top bureaucrat at the US State Department ducked the question.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Foreign Minister Morshed Khan said Burns and he agree that any political stalemate in Bangladesh should be resolved through discussion in parliament.
Asked whether the issue of Ahmadiyya persecution came up for discussion, Khan said he himself raised the matter and told him that some people are trying to make an issue of it, but the government is determined to deal with it.
The foreign minister said Burns had appreciated the government initiatives for poverty alleviation, setting up of an independent anti-corruption commission, measures against human trafficking, legal reforms, law and order, and Bangladesh’s contribution to UN peacekeeping operations.
Khan said he had requested the US official to incorporate Bangladesh into the Millennium Challenge Account, a special aid programme by the US to help the developing nations with better governance records.
Referring to Burns’ visit to Bangladesh, Khan said such high-profile visit would definitely open a new chapter in Bangladesh-US relationship.
He also said the US does not pay attention to any propaganda against Bangladesh.
Foreign Secretary Hemayet-uddin and the US Ambassador Harry K Thomas were present at the meeting.