Bangladesh

Mar 27, 2012 at 15:43 o\clock

Bangladesh honours 83 ‘foreign friends’

Friends of Bangladesh DHAKA, MAR 27: Bangladesh has honoured 83 foreign nationals and organisations for their outstanding contributions in the Bangladesh’s war of independence.

President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday conferred two categories of honours on distinguished personalities from different countries and organisations at a gala ceremony at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.

As many as eight foreign dignitaries—an incumbent president, a former king, three former presidents and three former prime ministers - were awarded the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour”, while 67 individuals, six organisations, people of India and Mitra Bahini were given the “Friends of Liberation War Honour” for their invaluable contribution during the nation’s struggle for freedom.

In all, 19 distinguished foreign nationals received the honours themselves, while 56 of such honours were received by the recipients’ next of kin or representatives, as many of them have passed away, while some are unable to come. On behalf of the six organisations, representatives have received the awards.

Pankaj Saran, Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka, received the honour for People of India, while the Indian state minister for defence, Pallam Raju received the honour for Mitra Bahini. Of the 75 overseas personalities awarded on the day, 46 have already passed away.

President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid tribute to the foreign dignitaries for their contribution to Bangladesh’s war of independence. Foreign minister Dr Dipu Moni and AB Tajul Islam, state minister for liberation war affairs, also spoke on the occasion.

Cabinet secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan read out the citation, while Mizanur Rahman, secretary to the liberation war affairs’ ministry, delivered the vote of thanks. Michael Barnes, former member of the British House of Commons, who along with some of his colleagues visited the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971, delivered the acceptance speech on behalf of the recipients.

The honoured 75 personalities include heads of states and government, ministers, lawmakers, politicians, artistes, humanitarian activists, journalists, military personnel and lawyers. They are from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, former Yugoslavia, Ireland, France, Sweden, Italy, Denmark and United States of America. Indian nationals dominated the number with 26 recipients, followed by USA (14), Russia (10) and the UK (7). People of India and members of the Mitra Bahini have been collectively honoured for their contribution.

The six organisations that were honoured are—Akashvani (All India Radio), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Kolkata University Shahayak Samiti, Oxfam and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Speaking on the occasion, the President described the honour conferred on the dignitaries as just a token of appreciation, as it is very difficult for a nation to reciprocate the support extended by its foreign friends during a very difficult time.

“This is merely a material means from our people, so that you can remember them,” he said. Bangladesh is grateful to recognise contributions of the country’s foreign friends and well-wishers who whole heartedly supported the war of independence and rendered invaluable endeavour in favour of freedom from their respective positions.

“Their precious inspiration and support put impetus to achieve our victory,” he said. The President appreciated the dignitaries for accepting the honours and said: “Your endless generosity, exemplary courage and firm spirit will remain in our hearts for ever.” Expressing gratitude to the foreign friends, the Prime Minister said that the nation was indebted to those who had stood by the people to extend their direct and indirect support. “Actually we are honouring ourselves by honouring you,” she said.

The Prime Minister, who spoke in Bangla, said: “It would not have been possible to achieve the victory so quickly had we not received assistance from our foreign friends.” “We cannot forget your contribution. We’ll not forget,” she added. Hasina also expressed gratitude to the unknown people who had contributed during the liberation war. “I was in captivity with my mother during the war of independence. There was a radio. Any word of support used to strengthen our belief,” she said.

The Prime Minister said that it had taken a long time to honour the foreign friends as those who believed in the spirit of the liberation war could not be in power for long. Hasina said that a list of over 560 foreign nationals had been prepared and they would be honoured in phases.

“Many have already passed away, and we might not be able to find some of them. But we’ll try to find out all the names,” she added. In his acceptance speech, former British lawmaker Michael Barnes said: “We are honoured to be invited here. We accept the honours with grateful hearts and humility.” Paying rich tributes to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he thanked the government for the decision to honour the foreigners with “generosity and hospitality”.

The ceremony was attended by Speaker Abdul Hamid, Chief Justice Mohammad Mozammel Haque, Ministers, Prime Minister’s advisers, lawmakers, judges, leaders political parties, members of the diplomatic corp, and senior civil and military officials.

According to sources, although Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia along with all other BNP MPs was invited they did not attend the ceremony. Two lawmakers belonging to Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami were not invited to attend the event. Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina in another programme said on Tuesday that the war crimes trial would continue for generations to punish the last of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Liberation War.

“The trial has started. It will go on for generations to bring the guilty to justice,” she told a discussion marking Bangladesh’s 41th Independence Day. The Awami League, which led the Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971 and obtained victory after nine months of armed struggle, organised the discussion “The nation now is united to establish a prosperous Bangladesh free from hunger and repression, and to prosecute war criminals,” at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka.

Addressing the discussion as chief guest, the Prime Minister, also the AL supremo, assured the gathering of several thousand supporters, leaders and activists of the ruling party that the war crimes trial would be completed within her current tenure.

The process has only started, she said, but many of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are still hiding abroad. “They should be traced and brought to justice, even if that takes several years,” Hasina said. She assured the gathering that her government would take steps so that the war trials can continue for years and are not stopped midway.

Hasina accused the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its right-wing allies of trying to protect war crimes suspects. She said the Opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, was a collaborator in the war crimes and called upon the people to remain alert against the “collaborators”. “You have to be remain alert so that these collaborators of the defeated forces can never assume office,” the AL chief said, adding that those who are serving the interests of the defeated forces, cannot be well-wishers of the people.

“Assuming office in the past, these forces turned the country’s development wheel backwards,” Hasina said, adding that these quarters would not be able to stop her government from conducting the war crimes trial.

The Prime Minister said Ziaur Rahman, the slain President and husband of Khaleda, had tried to protect the killers of Bangladesh’s founder, Bangabandhu Sheikh Munjibur Rahman. Zia also called off the early initiative by Bangabandhu for trial of war criminals, local collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces responsible for killing 3 million unarmed people, raping over 200,000 women and torching numerous houses during the nine-month-long war, said Hasina.

She was also critical about the Opposition leader’s alleged links with Pakistan and its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence. Referring to Khaleda Zia’s presence at the Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla Cricket Stadium on the day of the Bangladesh-Pakistan match, which Bangladesh lost by two runs, the Prime Minister said it is not yet clear which team the BNP chief was supporting. “People want to know, as she has never turned up in a stadium to watch a cricket match before,” Hasina said.

Presided over by AL presidium member, Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, the discussion was addressed among others by railway minister Suranjit Sengupta, agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury, jute and textile minister Abdul Latif Siddique, LGRD and cooperatives minister Syed Ashraful Islam, party joint secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif and Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya. [source: The Daily Star]

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