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Bangladesh to Investigate Allegations of Abuse During Crime Crackdown - 2002-10-31

Officials in Bangladesh are promising an investigation into the deaths of 12 people taken into army custody during a nationwide crackdown on crime. The army operation was launched two weeks ago to stem a rising crime wave, but there have been allegations of human rights abuses.

A government spokesman, Khondakaar Monirul Islam, says separate committees headed by senior army officers have been formed to investigate the deaths of several detainees in army custody.

Army officials have said the deaths were caused by cardiac arrest due to panic during interrogation.

Nearly 40,000 soldiers were deployed in mid-October to stem rampant crime in the country. The troops have been conducting anti-crime raids across the nation. Officials say more than 3,000 people have been detained and more than 500 weapons recovered in the operation.

The anti-crime drive was launched as the government came under intense pressure to halt a rising wave of violence and serious crime including extortion, kidnappings and killings. It is the first time the army has been ordered on the streets to tackle crime under a democratically-elected government.

But allegations of the use of excessive force and even torture by soldiers has led to growing concern about human rights abuses that may be taking place during the operation.

In Dhaka, a group of prominent Bangladeshi academics has issued a joint statement asking authorities to take steps against anyone involved in the army crackdown who is responsible for human rights violations.

Bangladesh's Foreign Secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, says the army will not be kept on the streets one day more than their presence is needed.

The comment came after U.S. officials expressed hope that the operation will last only as long as necessary. The American officials also said there are credible reports of abuses by the Bangladesh military, and have urged the Bangladesh government to ensure that the army observes human rights standards.

The main opposition Awami League Party has denounced the onslaught as politically motivated. The government denies politics are behind the drive and says the only aim is to restore law and order in the country.

Many of those arrested are activists and leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties. Police officials allege that links between criminal gangs and political parties have spurred increased crime in the country.