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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 06:10 GMT
Bangladeshi force 'killed many'
A RAB personnel alert with his gun
RAB was formed to tackle rising crime figures
A US based rights group says an elite-crime force in Bangladesh in responsible for killing more than 350 suspects in custody.

Human Rights Watch says that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has become a "government death squad".

The RAB was set up in April 2004 amid concerns about rising crime in the country and draws its personnel from the police and the military.

Human rights lawyers have expressed concerns about the force in the past.

Last year, rights groups in Bangladesh said that some 190 suspects had died in the custody of the force. The government had then admitted to a figure of around 150.

Now Human Rights Watch alleges the number of suspects killed in the force's custody is significantly higher.

'Abusive force'

"It's [the force's] methods are illegal and especially shameful to a nation whose citizen just won the Nobel prize for peace," Brad Adams, director of the rights group said.

The group feared that the former ruling party - Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - "could use the abusive force for political purposes" ahead of the general elections in January.

There was no immediate comment from the BNP on the report.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia ended her five-year term as prime minister on 28 October, handing power to a caretaker administration headed by President Ahmed.

Under the Bangladeshi constitution, a caretaker government must hold elections within 90 days of taking power.

The head of the Bangladeshi caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed, removed the director-general of RAB from his post after taking over.

RAB soldier stands on duty
RAB dress in all black complete with bandana and sunglasses

The BNP government has defended killings by the force saying the victims were "wanted criminals" or "top terrors" who died when they resisted arrest or were caught in "crossfire" between the force and criminal gangs, Human Rights Watch says.

"But a year-long investigation [by the rights group] found that many suspects died in RAB custody, either after being tortured or by an extrajudicial execution," the group said.

The group called on both major political parties, BNP and the main opposition Awami League, to clarify their positions on their force.

"Whoever wins the elections must fundamentally reform the RAB or abolish it," Mr Adams said.

Bangladesh's former law minister, Moudud Ahmed, was instrumental in setting up the RAB in 2004.

Dressed all in black with bandanas tied around their heads and wraparound sunglasses, they are a familiar sight on Bangladesh's streets.

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