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Bangladesh Deploys Troops to Combat Crime - 2003-02-19

The Bangladesh government has resumed a controversial operation to use the military to curb violent crime in the country's major cities.

The soldiers again have been deployed at bus, train, and ferry stations, as well as cinemas and shopping areas, in the country's six largest cities, including the capital, Dhaka.

Officials say troops have been ordered back to the streets after a surge in violent crime left more than 200 people dead in recent weeks.

The first anti-crime deployment of the military ended in early January, after a three month countrywide crackdown on rising crime.

The operation was criticized by human rights groups and several Western countries, after 40 people allegedly died while in Army custody. In some instances, soldiers had been accused of using excessive force and torture.

This new deployment is smaller, with just 2,000 troops involved and confined to big cities. The soldiers are also governed by new rules, which specify they must hand over criminal suspects to police for interrogation.

Shabbudin Ahmed, a journalist in Dhaka, says public opinion appears to support this new round of troop deployment to check violent crime. "There was an upswing suddenly in the crime chart, because when the troops went back the mastaans, the criminals, and the muggers decided to make their living again," he said. "Now the troops have come back, people on the streets, and I have spoken to many, have welcomed it, and feel better and confident about the situation that it will improve drastically."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia defended the use of troops to restore law and order, saying violent crime had reduced dramatically following the drive.

The government deployed troops to check crime after Ms. Zia's one-and-a-half-year-old government faced intense criticism for failing to halt spiraling murders, extortion and kidnappings. It was the first time that the army has been charged with dealing with criminals under a democratically elected government.