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War criminals barred from fleeing Bangladesh: official

Bangladesh has barred suspected war criminals accused of murder, rape or other crimes during its bloody 1971 independence struggle from leaving the country, a minister said.

world Updated: Feb 01, 2009 09:46 IST

Bangladesh has barred suspected war criminals accused of murder, rape or other crimes during its bloody 1971 independence struggle from leaving the country, a minister said Saturday.

"Instructions have been given to relevant authorities so that identified war criminals cannot flee the country," junior home minister Tanzim Ahmed told AFP.

He declined to give the number of people accused of being war criminals who are alleged to have committed such crimes as murder, rape or arson.

But Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed said earlier in the week the number would be "in the hundreds" and that they would be tried according to Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunals Act passed in 1973.

The announcement came after the country's parliament overwhelmingly approved a proposal on Thursday paving the way for speedy trial of alleged war criminals.

Bangladesh's newly-elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who led her party to a landslide parliamentary election victory last month, told parliament the "trial of war criminals is a must and will be carried out".

The Awami League government has said it plans to move quickly with the trials, despite the United Nations' having urged the administration to do its homework on the cases and proceed carefully.

The issue was a key pre-election pledge of the Awami League and analysts said it helped the party win massive support from young voters, who make up one third of the electorate.

War crimes have been a big issue in Bangladesh ever since the country won its independence from Pakistan after a nine-month liberation war in 1971.

Three million people were killed during the struggle, according to the government.

Most of those accused of being war criminals were Islamists who did not want the country to separate from Islamic Pakistan to become secular Bangladesh.

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 The remaining 26,000 were freed after a post-Mujib military government repealed the collaborators' act.

Trial of the alleged perpetrators became a big issue in the election when the country's war heroes addressed a series of nationwide rallies telling young voters that this was the "last chance" to try the war criminals.

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.

Many of those accused of war crimes have died, but hundreds of them are still alive and have denied committing any crimes during the war.

The law minister said members of "auxiliary forces" created by the Pakistan government to aid its army during the war and who have been accused of war crimes would be tried.