10-Truck Arms and Ammunition Haul in Chittagong

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The incident of the 10-Truck Arms and Ammunition Haul took place in Chittagong, Bangladesh, on the night of 1 April 2004, when police and Coast Guard interrupted the loading of 10 trucks and seized extensive illegal arms and ammunition at a jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) on the Karnaphuli River. This is believed to be the largest arms smuggling incident in the history of Bangladesh.

Investigators believed that delivery was intended for the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a militant group seeking the independence of Assam from India and considered responsible for causing thousands of deaths since 1979. Its military wing chief, Paresh Baruah,[1] then living in Dhaka, was among the 50 persons ultimately charged in the case.[2]

This incident occurred during the administration of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Four-Party alliance, which led the government from 2001 to late October 2006. Media analysts said that, given the scale of the operation and existing problems with corruption, high government officials and intelligence officers were believed to be involved in the smuggling plans. In 2004, arms smuggling charges were filed against a total of 45 individuals under the Special Powers Act and arms charges against 43 persons under the Arms Act.[3] In March 2009, one of the accused submitted a 10-page statement about the case, saying he had told police of high-level government involvement as early as 2005. He said his confessions were not recorded and officials warned him against repeating his statements, upon the threat of death.[2]

In early 2007 the caretaker government filed corruption charges against more than 160 politicians, civil servants and businessmen; it continued to develop this case. Prosecution of this smuggling case has continued under the Awami League government, formed after winning the general elections in December 2008.[3]

Background[edit]

Bangladesh has been known for having problems with "small arms proliferation, armed violence, and criminal activities in Bangladesh are their linkages with the politics of the country."[4] Violence with arms frequently occurs related to political demonstrations, including hartals (or strikes). "Political parties also maintain armed cadres to intimidate and, exert power and influence over the rival political activists."[4]

The nation is considered a "key ‘transit route’ for trafficking and smuggling of weapons in South Asia. All the points of entry i.e., air, land, and sea routes are used for trafficking and smuggling and it is alleged that the Bangladesh-India land routes are used extensively for the business." [4]

The police and Coast Guard interrupted the loading of materials in the smuggling incident. They seized 10 truckloads of material: a total of 4,930 different types of sophisticated firearms; 27,020 grenades; 840 rocket launchers, 300 rockets, 2,000 grenade launching tubes; 6,392 magazines; and 11,40,520 bullets, which were being loaded on 10 trucks from two-engine boats at the jetty of CUFL at Chittagong harbor. The illegal arms were believed to be intended for ULFA, the militant organization working for independence of Assam from India, with many members based in Bangladesh. It is classified as a terrorist group by India and considered responsible for thousands of deaths since its founding in 1979.

Ahadur Rahman, then officer-in-charge of Karnaphuli police station, filed a case related to the incident on April 3, 2004. He was appointed as Investigation Officer (IO) of the cases. After 22 days, the cases were transferred to the national CID, where ASP AKM Kabir Uddin was appointed IO. He submitted the first charge sheet to the court on June 11, 2004. In 2004, arms smuggling charges were filed against a total of 45 individuals under the Special Powers Act and arms charges against 43 persons under the Arms Act.[3]

The Bangladesh National Party, which led the government at the time of the smuggling incident, resigned at end of term in October 2006 and a caretaker government took charge for the 90-day period until elections. On January 11, 2007 Chief Advisor and President Iajuddin Ahmed announced he would be resigning from the CA position and appointing a replacement; the military had intervened to support a neutral government following the withdrawal of the Awami League from elections scheduled for January 22. The prominent banker, Fakhruddin Ahmed, who had been with the World Bank, was appointed as Chief Advisor.[5] At the time, the government relieved Major General Haider Chowdhury, then Director General for National Security Intelligence, of his duties and put him under investigation.[6] He was later charged in this smuggling case.

In 2007 the caretaker government, with military backing, filed charges of corruption in numerous cases against a total of more than 160 politicians, civil servants, and businessmen.[7]

Prosecution of charges[edit]

Since 2007, prosecution has been emphasized for the arms smuggling and illegal arms charges in this smuggling case. Those charged in this case have included the following politicians and military officers who had held senior positions in the BNP-led government, which resigned at its end of term in late October 2006:

  • former directors general of National Security Intelligence (NSI): Major General Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury and
  • Brigadier General Abdur Rahim;
  • former Additional Secretary to the Industries Ministry, Nurul Amin;
  • former NSI directors: Wing Commander Shahabuddin Ahmed,
  • Major Liakat Hossain, and
  • Field officer Akbar Hossain.

In addition, the following prominent businessmen were charged in this case: Mohshin Talukder, managing director of Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited, and its general manager, AKM Enamul Haque.[2]

The military wing chief of ULFA, Paresh Baruah,[1] was also charged.[2] Since 1979, ULFA has been implicated in violence resulting in the deaths of thousands in its struggle for independence of Assam from India.[8] In August 2005, Paresh Baruah said that ULFA had conducted raids on oil pipelines in Assam, causing severe damage.[1] "The Indian authorities have long complained that Bangladesh has become a safe haven for insurgent groups active in north-eastern Indian states."[9] Since 2008, the government of Bangladesh has been working with India against such terrorist groups.

Nurul Amin and Paresh Baruah fled the country before being arrested. Many of the other suspects were arrested.

On June 26, 2011, the current Investigation Officer in the smuggling case submitted a supplementary charge sheet before the court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Paresh Chandra Sharma, that implicated eleven more people. Including overlap, the total number of suspects charged were 50 in the smuggling case and 52 in the arms case. New people charged included Motiur Rahman Nizami, former Industries Minister under the BNP government; and Lutfozzaman Babar, former State Minister for Home Affairs. Four suspects have died since original charges were filed.[3]

2008 elections[edit]

On December 29, 2009, general elections were held. The Awami League and its Grand Alliance won two-thirds of the seats in parliament. In 2009, Sheikh Hasina formed a government. It has continued prosecuting corruption cases developed under the caretaker government.

Statements of two accused[edit]

Md Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad, charged in the smuggling case, submitted statements to the Metropolitan Magistrate Md Osman Gani on 2 March 2009, saying that the massive amount of arms and ammunition was being smuggled under the direct supervision of Ulfa leader Paresh Barua, who was residing in Dhaka at that time. In addition, they said that numerous men associated with the BNP-led government and Jatiya Party, including members of parliament, government officials, leaders of the National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), and the coast guard were very much aware of the operation.[2]

Hafizur had a 10-page statement, reiterating what he said was information earlier provided to police after he surrendered on 25 October 2005. But, he said his earlier confessions were never recorded, and officials warned him against making such statements. He said in his 2009 statement that they had threatened him with death. He discussed first being contacted in 2001 about accepting a shipment at Chittagong. It was not until February 2004 that he learned the true identity of a man he knew originally as Zaman; the man admitted to being Paresh Baruah, military wing chief of ULFA.[2]

2012 Trial[edit]

The trials began in 2012 in Chittagong. On November 28, 2012, tight security accompanied ten of eleven charge-sheeted accused persons who were presented in court. That day, the prosecution witness Mobin Hossain Khan, former assistant security officer of Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL), testified that former Industries Secretary Nurul Amin was informed of the smuggling operation in advance. The next sessions were scheduled for January 7, 2013.[3]

Court Verdict[edit]

On January 30, 2014 a special court in Chittagong commuted death sentence to Paresh Barua and 13 others, including Jamaat chief and then industries minister Motiur Rahman Nizami and then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, for smuggling in 10 truckloads of firearms in 2004.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Assam separatists admit oil raid", BBC, 8 August 2005, accessed 1 May 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f Abdullah Al Mahmud, "4-party bigwigs were in plot, accused say", The Daily Star, 5 March 2009, accessed 1 May 2013
  3. ^ a b c d e "Ex-Industries Secretary Nurul Amin was informed of the 10-truck arms smuggling: Mobin Hossain", Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), 28 November 2012, accessed 1 May 2013
  4. ^ a b c M Ashique Rahman, "Arms control in Bangladesh and the UN arms trade treaty, will it benefit us?", The Daily Star, 20 March 2013, accessed 5 May 2013
  5. ^ Ishaan Tharoor, "General Command", Time Magazine, 19 June 2008
  6. ^ [1], "07DHAKA66 Cable", 12 January 2007, Wikileaks
  7. ^ "Opposition welcomes B'desh U-turn", BBC News, 26 April 2006, accessed 29 April 2013
  8. ^ Biswajyoti Das, "ULFA softens demand on Assam independence", Reuters, 3 January 2011, accessed 1 May 2013
  9. ^ Waliur Rahman, "Jailed Assam rebel seeks asylum", BBC, 25 February 2005, accessed 1 May 2013
  10. ^ "Assam Govt refuses to comment on Death Sentence to Paresh Barua". IANS. Biharprabha News. Retrieved 30 January 2014.