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Page last updated at 05:17 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 06:17 UK

Bangladesh to announce war probe

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka

Guerrillas attack Pakistani militiamen in newly-independent Bangladesh
Guerrillas attack Pakistani militiamen in newly-independent Bangladesh

Bangladesh is set to announce plans to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes during the country's war of independence nearly 40 years ago.

The government says those suspected of collaborating with the Pakistani army in the killing and rape of thousands of civilians will be put on trial.

The party which fought for independence in 1971, the Awami League, has recently been returned to power.

The plan is opposed by one of the main opposition parties, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Its leaders are among those accused of alleged war crimes.

The government says the setting up of a prosecution team is the start of the process that will eventually lead to the trial of hundreds of people for war crimes, crimes against humanity and maybe even genocide.

It says these crimes were committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and their locally raised militia, when they embarked on a campaign to hold on to what was then the country's eastern province by terrorising its civilian population.

The plan failed, but not before countless killings and rapes.

Bangladesh says three million people died, though some historians dispute this figure saying it does not take into account people who fled the conflict into India and then did not return afterwards.

Many collaborators were jailed after the war, but the issue was quietly dropped as consecutive governments preferred not to re-open old wounds.

It has now become a major political issue, because the party which fought for independence, the Awami League recently returned to power with a huge majority.

One of its main opponents, Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest religious party, also opposed the creation of Bangladesh.

Jamaat's leaders are among those accused of carrying out war crimes, but they say they are innocent, and that now they are being persecuted.



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