US against military role in Bangladesh politics


Dhaka : The US has decried current political trends in Bangladesh and has expressed itself clearly against military involvement in politics.

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In an interview to the United News of Bangladesh (UNB), outgoing US Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis also called for lifting the ban on political activity and for early elections – as of now likely only in 2008-end – saying the US-Bangladesh relationship was "based on democracy".

On reported restrictions on two former prime ministers, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, Butenis said the government should be transparent and explain why.

"Bangladeshis have the right to know why people have been picked up, what are the charges against them, why they cannot travel here and there and why they cannot leave the country," she said.

Butenis, who played a proactive role throughout her tenure here that witnessed political turmoil, is to move on to Iraq on another key assignment.

She said Washington did not want to see any sort of military involvement in Bangladesh politics, "as it will be a mistake".

The country has had phases of military rule during 1975-91 and the present regime is also perceived as "military backed".

The envoy said she took the army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed at his word as he had said publicly and in meetings that he had no political ambitions.

"We've been pretty straightforward saying that any military personnel can retire or resign from military and decide to take politics, that's their business, but direct military role in politics will be a mistake, I think," New Age newspaper reported.

Butenis also commented on the efforts by Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed's interim government to initiate political reforms and prop up political parties.

"I do not want to see anybody coerced or forced to join a new party," said Butenis.

The envoy said people might be interested in forming political parties. Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus had also tried to float a party, but abandoned the plans. "But certainly it should not be under any kind of pressure."

Butenis supported the reforms in political parties through discussions among themselves but said any attempt or plan to impose changes on parties was going to have troubles.

Favouring the lifting of ban on politics, the envoy said there were certain concerns that people might take to street and resort to violence again. "But I think there should be an opportunity for discussions" on reform proposals from different parties as well as from the Election Commission."

Butenis did not comment on a "minus-two" formula of reform by excluding the two former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. She said that was not her job to make comment on a particular proposal.

"But everybody agrees that parties have to bring changes. Perhaps part of that change may be their senior leaders. But they can't do that without being able to discuss it," she observed.