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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 18:22 GMT
Bangladesh Hindu atrocities 'documented'
Protesters in India
Bangladeshi Hindus receive support in Calcutta, India
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

A leading South Asian rights group says it has documented widespread atrocities committed by Muslim radicals against members of the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh.

Khaleda Zia
New Prime Minister Zia has promised protection for the minorities
Shahriyar Kabir of the South Asian Coalition Against Fundamentalism told the BBC his group had collected evidence from victims who had fled the country.

Mr Kabir said the group's findings would soon be published in a white paper with full details of the alleged atrocities.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's coalition government has admitted there is some truth to the allegations, but has dismissed reports of widespread attacks on Hindus as exaggerated.

Rape and torture

Mr Kabir said that Muslim supporters of Bangladesh's ruling coalition successfully prevented a large number of Hindus from voting in Bangladesh's parliamentary elections in October.

Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina's opposition Awami League claims the support of the minorities
They then went allegedly went on a rampage of rape, torture, murder and looting, forcing several hundred Hindus to flee their villages.

Many who did not leave the country took refuge in offices of the opposition Awami League.

The Awami League's leader and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina is reported to have appealed to Hindus not to leave Bangladesh, but to stay and oppose the government.

Mr Kabir also alleged that extremist groups were forcing Hindus to flee to India in an attempt to turn Bangladesh into a purist Islamic state.

Political transition

On Wednesday, Bangladesh's Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury said he was unable to confirm reports that Hindus had fled the country.

Reports that day said Bangladeshi border guards had detained 124 Hindus while they were trying to cross the border into India.

Clay likeness of the Hindu goddess Durga
Hindu leaders have cancelled religious festivities
Mr Chowdhury said an investigation would have to be carried out to see if these Hindus had been subjected to any kind of atrocity and if they were trying to leave Bangladesh.

He told the BBC that many people on both sides of the borders are involved in smuggling and they often cross the Indo-Bangladesh borders.

He did not, however, say he would claim that there had been no violence against the minority Hindu community after the October elections.

But he insisted that there was no link between religion and violence.

Mr Chowdhury said some criminals had taken advantage of a political transition in the country with an ulterior political motive and the new government was taking necessary actions against the miscreants.

He also dismissed the allegations that the government was linked to any criminals who were involved in attacks on Bangladesh's religious minorities.

See also:

19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Fears of Bangladeshi Hindus
03 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh parliament boycott
30 Sep 01 | South Asia
Deaths mar Bangladesh election
28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Campaigning ends in Bangladesh
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh rally bombed
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