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US Concerned About Human Rights Abuses in Bangladesh - 2002-10-31

The United States is expressing concern about reported human rights abuses by the armed forces of Bangladesh in the course of an army-led crackdown on crime in the South Asian country.

Reports from Bangladesh say more than 3,000 people have been arrested since Prime Minister Khaleda Zia ordered 40,000 government troops on to the streets of the capital Dhaka and other cities two weeks ago.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged that Bangladesh has a serious crime problem that needs to be dealt with. But he said the United States has seen "credible reports" that the sweep has included the physical abuse of detainees, and that there are allegations of torture.

"Reportedly at least 12 people detained by the army died in custody," said Richard Boucher. "The army has also arrested members of several political parties including the ruling party. Several senior leaders of the opposition Awami League are also under arrest. Over the past few years, serious law and order problems have arisen in Bangladesh that need to be addressed. We hope this operation by the army, even though it was ordered by a democraticly government, will last only as long as absolutely necessary and that other measures will be taken to bring about permanent improvement in law and order."

Mr. Boucher said the United States is concerned about the reports of abuses, and that U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh Mary Ann Peters conveyed those concerns in a meeting with Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan last week.

He said the U.S. envoy told him the army needed to act in accordance with human rights norms, and that the deployment should not be used to harass the government's political opponents.

The Dhaka government has since promised to increase central oversight of military operations to prevent rights violations and deaths in custody, and that the army will investigate reports of abuses. Mr. Boucher said the United States will continue to watch closely to see whether that occurs.