Friday, November 6, 2009

'Crossfire' only worries

Most outlaws wait for scope to surrender, to weather the ongoing drive

By Shariful Islam and Amanur Aman; Most of the outlaws and members of the left-leaning underground parties now consider surrender in fear of "extrajudicial" death sentence after carrying out a reign of terror in the southwest region for decades.

Sources have confirmed the outlaws are requesting AL local leaders to convince the government to give them an option to surrender like in 1999.

"As the law enforcers are causing much trouble and killing our members in the name of crossfire, our top bosses are asking local ruling party leaders to arrange our surrender," said a Gono Mukti Fouz (GMF) leader asking not to be named.

In 1999, the then Awami League government offered the outlaws an opportunity to surrender and arranged it through ceremonies in the region.

Although many of the outlaws surrendered, the problems remain unresolved as many of them later returned to their previous life again.

Around 2,700 outlaws responded to the previous offer and surrendered with 2,100 firearms. Over 500 outlaws were rehabilitated in the Ansar Battalion on temporary basis, but more than 300 of them disappeared and returned to their previous occupations of killing, mugging and other modes of crime.

Sources in the home ministry say there is pressure from Ansar not to rehabilitate any outlaws in the force this time as many of those rehabilitated in 1999 deserted the force later.

But the situation is different this time as deaths in so-called shootouts or crossfire have been occurring for the last five years. Some of the well-known top tier leaders including Mofakkar Chowdhury and Dr Mizanur Rahman Tutul were killed in similar fashion during the BNP-Jamaat rule.

A number of dreaded outlaw leaders were also killed in 'crossfire' or 'shootouts' with law enforcers. Only infamous outlaws like 'Kashai' Siraj and Laltu who killed scores of people, many by burning alive in brick kilns, are still in jail since they surrendered in 1999.

The current leadership in Kushtia fears they might face the same fate of 62 'comrades', who were killed in 'shootouts' since the ongoing crackdown on outlaws began on August 22.

The Prime Minister's Office gave the order for massive crackdown on the outlaws due to a serious slide in law and order in the region marked by frequent killings.

Sources say against this backdrop, leaders of different factions of outlawed outfits and underground parties now consider surrender and return to "normal" life.

Home Minister Sahara Khatun on October 12 informed the House the government would soon announce its surrender offer so that the outlaws may return to "normal" life.

However, cross-section of people expressed dismay over the government move and said giving such opportunities might be "futile" like in 1999.

Members of the law-enforcement agencies are also against the surrender move right now and are eager to continue the operation to arrest the outlaws.

"We want to see an end to the outlaw problem and want security to our lives," said a local businessman wishing anonymity.

The government should continue "crossfire" to eliminate outlaws and take tough legal measures to bring their political patrons to book, people of the region demand.

CADRES AND ARMS STRENGTH

A list prepared in September-November last year on 13 underground parties and crime rackets mentions names of 2,847 cadres and their godfathers, mostly from 23 southwest and northwest districts.

The list also includes names of 80 kingpins and 150 patrons from mainstream politics.

Sources in Rapid Action Battalion could not say for sure how many firearms the outlaws, underground parties and crime rackets posses but hinted that every active member has at least one gun.

However, a report prepared by a law-enforcement agency around a year ago gives some specific impression about the strength of some of those underground parties.

Purba Banglar Communist Party's (PBCP) ML-Janajuddha faction has 50 to 60 active cadres. The outfit has firearms like M16 and AK47 assault rifles, .303 rifles, 9 shooters, shotguns, single and double barrel guns, locally made and foreign pistols and revolvers and light guns (LG).

PBCP (ML-Red Flag) cadres possess AK47 rifles, single and double barrel guns, local and foreign pistols and revolvers, LGs and bombs.

PBCP (ML mainstream or followers of Mofakkar) has around 50 armed cadres, who use Indian and locally manufactured arms and bombs.

Biplabi Communist Party (Haque Group) has over 50 armed cadres, who have AK47, 9 shooter guns, single and double barrel guns, local and foreign pistols and revolvers, LGs and bombs.

The report states that most of the firearms and ammunition are smuggled in from India, though some underground parties smuggle weapons from Myanmar through Bandarban and Cox's Bazar borders.

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