Zia government behind botched ULFA arms shipment, court told

March 5th, 2009 - 11:37 am ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, March 5 (IANS) Senior political leaders along with civil and military intelligence chiefs of then Khaleda Zia government were involved in the botched arms shipment seized at Chittagong port in 2004 that was meant for the Indian insurgent group ULFA, two people have told a court.
The two accused, Mohammed Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad, told a court Monday that the huge cache of weapons was being smuggled under the direct supervision of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leader Paresh Barua, who was then residing in Dhaka, The Daily Star reported Thursday.

The reported confessions corroborate the Indian allegation that elements in Bangladesh, with direct support from the Zia government, were fuelling insurgency in India’s north-eastern region and hosting fugitive rebels.

Rahman told the court that he had actually met Barua, chief of ULFA, along with a 10-year-old girl, who was introduced as daughter of Anup Chetia, the body’s military wing chief. Chetia is in detention in Dhaka long after his jail term was over.

The leaders of the Zia government have not been mentioned in the report.

However, the name of Salahuddin Qader Choudhury, owner of the shipping company that owned the vessels that brought the arms shipments from Teknaf on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border to Chittagong port, has figured in connection with last month’s mutiny by troopers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).

Choudhury, a senior lawmaker of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is believed to be close to the former prime minister and in touch with Pakistan’s intelligence set-up.

The confession statement, made before Metropolitan Magistrate Mohammed Osman Gani, says that the Zia government’s “ministries for home and industries, some high officials of intelligence agencies concerned, and the Coast Guard were well aware of the smuggling”.

It also cites Golam Faruq Obhi, a former Jatiya Party MP (who belonged to the Zia-led alliance) and Azmal Huda Mithu, a film director.

In the 10-page confessional statement, Rahman claimed to have given the same statement on different occasions, since his surrender Oct 25, 2005.

“But, the confession was never recorded, instead the officials concerned warned him against making such statements in the future, threatening him with death as well, sources said quoting from Hafiz’s statement,” the newspaper said.

The operation for smuggling in 10 truckloads of arms was botched as policemen on duty, unaware of the orders from high authorities, challenged the consignment and upon finding arms, placed the seizure on record.

The court was told that Barua, a wanted man in India, went by the name of Zaman in this country.

Rahman gave details of his meeting with Zaman (Barua).

“As I met him in Rapa Plaza, Zaman this time around had with him a girl of about 10 years of age. He revealed himself as the ULFA military wing chief Paresh Barua, and the girl as the daughter of Anup Chetia,” said Hafiz in his confession.

“Zaman or Paresh Barua also claimed that he looked after Anup’s family, while some people of intelligence agencies ensured their safety,” Hafiz continued.

“On March 23 or 24, Paresh called for me on an emergency basis. I immediately rushed to Dhaka and rented a room in Red Star Hotel opposite Rajarbagh Police Line, and met him in Wimpy again.”

Rahman confessed to having received money during his meeting with Barua and payments were made to him subsequently as well, totalling Taka 1.8 million ($250,000 approx.).

“Paresh asked me to help him to transport a delivery of some machinery from a ship anchored in the sea near the Myanmar border near Saint’s Martin Island. He also said the goods could not be brought to Chittagong port due to some technical problems.

“Asked about the required permission from the Bangladesh Navy, coast guard, customs authority and the jetty authority, he said the NSI (National Security Intelligence) and DGFI (Directorate General of Forces Intelligence) chiefs had made all arrangements, and the jetty permission had also already been there, so nobody would ask me any question,” said Rahman in his statement.

Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammed were detained by authorities after the arms cache was confiscated April 2, 2004.

“After charges were pressed against me, I surrendered to the High Court on October 26, 2005.

“I was shown arrested in a pending case, and was interrogated in the Task Force Interrogation Cell, where I made the same confession as I am making now. But the statement was not recorded.

“They instead warned me against making such statements in the future, threatening to kill me if I disclosed anything regarding the matter,” Rahman told the court.

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