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Bangladeshis want war criminals to be hanged

Thousands of Bangladeshis gather at a memorial for intellectuals and professionals killed during the '71 war.

world Updated: Dec 14, 2007 23:22 IST
Anis Ahmed

Thousands of Bangladeshis gathered on Friday at a memorial for intellectuals and professionals killed during the 1971 independence war amid demands for punishment of "war criminals".

"Put the war criminals on trial and hang them," said Mohammad Selim, visiting a memorial for martyred intellectuals at Dhaka's Rayer Bazar.

Like others paying respects at the memorial, Selim said Pakistani soldiers and their collaborators raped women and killed Bengali nationalists, politicians and intellectuals on Dec. 14, 1971, two days before Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan after a nine-month war, helped by India.

Bangladesh has never held war crimes trials, even though 3 million people were killed during the war, according to government records.

Some blame it on lack of action by independence leaders, especially the country's "overly generous" founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who apparently wanted to forgive and restore unity in the newly created homeland for the Bengalis.

Others say Mujib, as he was usually called, was killed in a military coup in 1975 even before he could put his house in order and set the stage for a trial of war criminals.

On Dec. 14 every year, Bangladesh remembers hundreds of teachers, doctors, engineers, artists and others gunned down or bayoneted to death by the Pakistani army and their local aides.

Many of their families still live in distress, like those of thousands of freedom fighters struggling for a meagre living, in this south Asian country of more than 140 million people.

Early on Friday, President Iajuddin Ahmed, and the head of the army-backed interim government Fakhruddin Ahmed, laid wreaths at a memorial in Mirpur, in the capital's northern suburb.

Leaders of political parties and members of social and cultural groups also visited the memorials and laid flowers.

After the interim authority took charge in January, large sections of Bangladeshis felt it should also start legal actions against the war criminals, alongside a massive crackdown on corruption.

But the government showed no interest opening the trial. Many officials said they had no time to deal with all issues as it was racing against time to hold a promised free and fair election around end of next year.