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US Asstnt Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal in Bangladesh: terrorism and intolerance on top agenda

Bilateral cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism were discussed on day one

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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal addresses a news conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, April 3, 2014. AFP
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Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 5,2016:

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal said she discussed bilateral cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism during a meeting with Bangladesh’s foreign minister and other senior officials in Dhaka on Wednesday.

The meeting on the first day of a three-day visit by Biswal took place amid mounting American pressure on Bangladesh to stop a wave of machete killings by suspected Islamic extremists and to thoroughly investigate killings of secular bloggers and activists dating to last year.

“Important talks with FM Ali, State Minister Alam, & FS Haque on US-#Bangladesh partnership and combating terrorism and extremism,” Biswal said in a message posted on Twitter.

Biswal, the assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian Affairs, arrived in the Bangladeshi capital nine days after two Bangladeshi gay rights activists, including a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) worker, were slain together in a machete-attack by suspected militants.

Later on Wednesday, Biswal said she met with staff at the U.S. embassy and USAID to share memories of Xulhaz Mannan, the aid worker who was killed at this Dhaka apartment on April 25 alongside K. Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, a theater actor.

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Fundamentalists getting green signals from Bangladesh Govt: Writer accuses

Both men were gay rights activists and Mannan was the editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine devoted to the coverage of LGBT issues in the country.

“#XulhazMannan embodied courage and selflessness and his legacy will live on in causes he championed,” Biswal tweeted on Wednesday.

Three other people – an English professor, a secular blogger and a Hindu tailor – were killed in separate machete attacks last month that marked an escalation in killings at the hands of suspected extremists in Bangladesh. Last year, militants hacked to death five writers and intellectuals, including Bangladeshi-American secular blogger Avijit Roy.

Closed-door meeting

After landing in Dhaka, Biswal went to a state guest house where she met behind closed doors for at least two hours with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali and other senior officials from the ministry.

In Dhaka, Madrasa students carrying out a rally. Wikimedia Commons
In Dhaka, Madrasa students carrying out a rally. Wikimedia Commons

At around 11:30 a.m., the foreign minister and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam left the building without talking to journalists.

Biswal was scheduled to meet on Thursday with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal. During her visit she was also expected to meet with local human rights and civil society groups.

The senior American diplomat arrived in Bangladesh six days after her boss, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, called Hasina to offer U.S. support for the investigation into the killing of Mannan and Tonoy, according to officials at state.

“The Secretary also condemned other incidents in a recent spate of violence,” according to a statement issued last week by the State Department.

“The Secretary urged Prime Minister Hasina to ensure a thorough investigation of all of these incidents, and to redouble law enforcement efforts to prevent future attacks and protect those who are at risk,” the statement added. (Benar News)

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)