The use of illegal firearms in clashes between supporters of chairman and member candidates during the ongoing Union Parishad (UP) elections has seen a rise, in a drastic change in the scale and form of violence over the local body polls.
Clashes, mostly among supporters of the rival candidates of ruling Awami League, are taking place in different parts of the country almost every day over the UP polls, leaving 66 people dead in the last four months.
Five people were killed in violence in the first phase held in two rounds while 24 in the third phase and seven people have so far been killed ahead of fourth and fifth phases billed for December 26 and January 5 respectively.
Highest 11 people were killed in Narsingdi. Of them, nine died in the second phase of elections in the district.
However, senior district election officer Mohammad Mesba Uddin called the deaths isolated. According to him, there are frequent fights and killings in remote and isolated chars of the district.
Illegal weapons are being used in the fights between the followers of the rival candidates in the local body polls.
On December 17, an aspiring UP chairman candidate and one of his close aides were shot to death by unidentified assailants at Natghar village in Nabinagar upazila of Brahmanbaria district.
Molla Mohammad Shaheen, additional superintendent of Brahmanbaria police, told reporters that the two young men were returning home at night after attending a programme when they were waylaid by the assailants.
“Following an altercation, the assailants opened fire on the youths, leaving Badal dead on the spot and Ershad critically injured. Ershad succumbed to his injuries on the way to Dhaka for treatment,” he said.
Crime analysts and intelligence sources said violence, including shooting, will see a further rise in the coming elections as the candidates want to ensure their victory in the elections at any cost.
Illegal weapons are being used wherever there is a conflict, they noted.
Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director (Legal and Media Wing) of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) headquarters, said there had been a number of shootings over the UP elections. “Several people were shot to death. Immediately after these incidents, members of law enforcement agencies arrested the perpetrators.”
He said the RAB detectives are monitoring the situation so that no one can use illegal firearms in the coming elections. “We’re also monitoring the sale and purchase of illegal weapons. Our operation is underway across the country to recover illegal arms.”
Some illegal arms dealers arrested by the law enforcers said a large number of weapons, including sophisticated ones, have entered the country through different border points centring on the UP elections.
According to the intelligence sources, 30 points have been identified through which arms are being smuggled into the country. The points include Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi, Hili, Benapole, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Mongla, Ukhiya, Ramu, Teknaf, Maheskhali, Kutubdia, Raozan, Saint Martin, Sandwip, Sitakunda, Rangunia, Bandarban, Rangamati, Chandpur, Akhaura, Khulna, Satkhira, Kushtia, Patuakhali, Pirojpur and Sylhet.
Smugglers mostly use Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Benapole and Sylhet points for bringing in the illegal firearms.
Members of the law enforcement agencies are working separately to check the smuggling of illegal firearms. Surveillance has also been stepped up on those who are involved in arms trade across the country.
Some arms dealers are trading in illegal arms under the guise of legal arms trade. A few of such traders have already been brought to book.
Md Tawohidul Haque, assistant professor of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research at Dhaka University (DU), said the main reason behind the violence, killings and gunfights that are taking place in the local body elections is the competition among those who are contesting the polls. “They want to win the elections in any way.”
“The absence of a democratic environment in elections is responsible for this attitude. Nowadays elections are not as festive as before. There’s no voter turnout and not all parties participate in elections. Instead, multiple candidates from the same party are taking part in elections, leading to conflicts between them. That is why the incidence of violence is increasing,” he added.
Tawohidul said, “The use of illegal weapons is increasing in the UP elections. No one fires from a licensed weapon. Members of the law enforcement agencies conducted an operation to recover the weapons. But the gunfire doesn’t stop. This means there’s lack of responsibility on their part. They need to be more careful about recovering illegal weapons.”