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Bangladesh Orders Surrender of Firearms in Anti-Crime Crackdown Operation - 2002-11-07

In Bangladesh, citizens have been ordered to surrender licensed firearms, as part of a massive anti-crime operation launched by the army, three weeks ago. The government has also ordered more troops onto the streets, to bolster its countrywide crackdown on crime.

Hundreds of Bangladeshis began surrendering firearms and ammunition after authorities told them to hand them in by mid-November or face legal action. The government says the latest move is part of efforts to ensure that the army-led operation to stamp out violent crime in the country is successful.

The government deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in towns and cities across Bangladesh, last month, to check a wave of rising crime, including extortion, kidnapping and killings. Much of the crime has been blamed on criminal gangs who have alleged links with mainstream political parties. The troops have been conducting raids on hideouts of suspected criminals and confiscating weapons.

The government has intensified the operation by putting an additional 6,000 soldiers on the streets, to assist troops already engaged in the task.

More than 4,000 people have been detained, so far.

Army Chief H.M. Chowdhury says the operation will continue as long as what he calls "listed and identified" criminals have not been arrested.

The anti-crime operation has been welcomed by most people, who desperately want law and order to improve. Authorities say the situation is already better, with many criminals having been arrested and others having gone into hiding.

But the crackdown has been strongly attacked by opposition parties. Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, has called it undeclared martial law and has demanded fresh elections.

Human rights groups and the United States have also expressed concern about the operation. Amnesty International has drawn attention to the death of several suspects in army custody and asked the government to ensure that human rights are not violated.

The United States has urged the government to ensure that the crackdown ends as early as possible, citing what officials call credible reports of abuses by the Bangladesh military.

In Bangladesh, political observers are pointing to the need for long-term reform in the police to ensure that the civil administration is able to tackle crime more effectively.

This is the first time that a democratically elected government has asked the army to lead an anti-crime drive. The move came after the government faced intense criticism for failing to control serious crime, despite promises to do so when it came to power, one year ago.