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B'desh arrests suspected war criminals: Police

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 13:00 IST
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Bangladeshi police on Saturday said they have arrested two men suspected of committing war crimes during the country's bloody 1971 liberation conflict, in the first such case in more than three decades.

Police said Daud Ali and Nure Anwar are accused of helping the Pakistani army massacre 15 people during the war, in which some three million lost their lives.

The first arrests since 1975, when thousands of suspected war criminals were pardoned, follow pledges by newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and appeals by veterans of the conflict.

"Ali and Anwar were arrested after a son of a freedom fighter filed a case, accusing the two of abetting the Pakistani army in killing his father along with 14 other freedom fighters on November 30, 1971," local police chief Asaduzzaman said.

"Some 40 witnesses have told us that the two played key role in helping the Pakistani army arrest the freedom fighters, torching their houses and killing them blindfolded in brush-fire on a field in broad daylight," he said.

War crimes have been an unresolved issue in Bangladesh since the former East Pakistan won independence from Islamabad in the nine-month liberation conflict.

Most of the accused collaborators were religious hardliners who did not want the country to separate from Islamic Pakistan to become a secular country.

After the war, Bangladesh's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current premier, arrested 37,000 people and tried some under a collaborators' act.

But Sheikh Mujib, who was assassinated in a military coup in 1975, later pardoned 11,000 people. The remaining 26,000 were freed when a post-Mujib military government repealed the collaborators' act.

War crimes were a big factor in December's polls when veterans addressed a series of nationwide rallies telling young voters that this was the "last chance" to try suspects.

Analysts said a pre-election pledge by Sheikh Hasina's Awami League to hold trials helped the party win massive support from young voters, who make up a third of the electorate.

In January, Sheikh Hasina told parliament the "trial of war criminals is a must and will be carried out."

A private War Crimes Fact Finding Committee recently unveiled a list of 1,775 people it alleged were war criminals, including 16 top Pakistani generals and key leaders of the country's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.