April 24, 2006

US says to help Dhaka fight terrorism, hold polls

DHAKA (Reuters) - The United States will provide assistance
to Bangladesh to fight terrorism and hold free and fair
national elections early next year, the new U.S. ambassador
Patricia A. Butenis said on Monday.

She said the U.S. welcomed the arrest of top two Islamist
militants blamed for a spate of bombings in Bangladesh last
year, and hoped that authorities will bring the two and their
supporters to justice soon.

"Fighting terrorism is a priority not just for Bangladesh,
but for the entire world...it is about freedom, tolerance and
respect for others," Butenis told reporters.

She said the U.S. was giving training and technical
assistance to Bangladesh to tackle terrorism as well as help
draft legislation against money laundering and terror

At least 30 people have been killed and 150 wounded in bomb
attacks since August, blamed on Islamist groups --
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh -- as
part of their campaign to turn the mainly Muslim democracy into
an Islamic state.

Security forces captured Shayek Abdur Rahman, the leader of
the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, the
chief of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh ,in separate
operations last month.

Butenis also urged Bangladesh's warring political parties
to stop fighting in the streets and hold talks to resolve their
differences and ensure free and fair elections next year.

"Election is my second priority. We will help Bangladesh in
holding a free and fair election.," she said.

A 14-party opposition alliance led by Awami League has been
trying to build up pressure on the government, accusing it of
failing to improve law and order, reduce prices and end
shortages of essential goods.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has said she would serve out her
full five-year term and challenged the opposition to face her
in the election due in January 2007.