Military should be neutral during Bangla polls: rights body

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New York, Dec 12 (UNI) The Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladeshi military, deployed across the country on December 9 to "ensure security" in the run-up to national elections to avoid partisan attitude.

Caretaker President Iajuddin Ahmed ordered the military deployment after weeks of protests before the elections set for January 23. He said the deployment was necessary to "ensure security of countrymen and to create a congenial and peaceful atmosphere ahead of polls." "Past experience with Bangladeshi leaders deploying the military gives us serious cause for concern," Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based rights body said yesterday. "During the last major deployment in 2002, more than 50 people died after being arrested by troops", he added.

A 14-party coalition opposition has staged regular demonstrations in recent weeks calling for electoral reforms amid charges of bias by the caretaker government and large-scale voter registration fraud.

More than 40 people died and scores have been injured in pre-election protests.

On December 11, four Cabinet members of the caretaker government resigned to protest the military deployment. One of them, human rights lawyer Sultana Kamal, said the entire Cabinet had objected the move. "But he (the president) did not care," she was quoted as saying by news reports.

''The deployment of the army is against the democratic process ... it can provoke the political parties and create obstacles in holding a free and fair election.'' The military has played a powerful role in Bangladesh since the country gained freedom from Pakistan in 1971. Two presidents of the country have lost their lives in military coups.

''Abusive members of the military have enjoyed near-total immunity for their violent crimes in the past," Adams said adding that "If the military is to promote law and order today, it must respect the law." Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about the much early deployment before the elections."Given the military's record of human rights violations, it's crucial that the army follows strict rules limiting the use of force," said Adams.

"The army is not trained in policing, and history shows that it abuses people's rights when asked to work as police." The rights body said the deployment should be seen in the context of violence and extra-judicial killings by Bangladesh's security forces. Over the past three years, more than 350 people have died in the custody of the police and the Rapid Action Battalion.


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