US panel warns of growing Islamic militancy in Bangladesh

Washington, USA - An independent US panel on religious freedom expressed concern over growing Islamist militancy in Bangladesh and violence against individuals and groups perceived as "un-Islamic."

Bangladesh could be a model for other emerging democracies with majority Muslim populations but "that model is in jeopardy," warned Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal agency.

She warned about "growing Islamist militancy and the failure to prosecute those responsible for violent acts carried out against Bangladeshi individuals, organizations and businesses perceived as `un-Islamic.`"

In May, the commission placed Bangladesh on a so called "Watch List" amid concerns that constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in that country were being threatened by growing religious extremism.

In a report released Tuesday, the panel urged the administration of President George W. Bush to ensure that the caretaker government that will run Bangladesh ahead of elections in January was given military and other powers to prevent violence.

It was part of a series of measures needed to ensure that Bangladesh`s democratic electoral process takes place without violence, and to promote universal human rights, including religious freedom, said the report "Policy Focus on Bangladesh."

"The Commission calls on the US government to urge the government of Bangladesh to make every effort to prevent violence before and after the election," said the report, which explored the country`s human rights situation ahead of the polls.

It could be undertaken "by ensuring that the caretaker government that will take over later this month has authority over the Ministry of Defense and power to instruct law enforcement bodies, and by instituting a registration process that will facilitate the enrollment of the maximum number of eligible voters before the election."

The last election in October 2001 was marred by violence and many of the victims were Hindus, Bangladesh`s largest religious minority, the commission said.

That election was won by an alliance that included, for the first time religiously based parties.

The largest of these, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, openly promotes Bangladesh becoming an Islamic state with a legal system based on sharia, or Islamic law, and the establishment of an "Islamic social order."

Former Bangladesh Chief Justice K M Hasan is set to head the interim government, which is due to assume power on October 27.