Haroon Habib

Two prime accused in 2004 arms haul case confess

Smuggling under ULFA leader Paresh Barua’s supervision

Role of intelligence agencies also mentioned

DHAKA: Two prime accused in a big arms haul in Chittagong in 2004 have confessed in court that the weapons were being smuggled for the United Liberation Front of Asom and under the direct supervision of its leader Paresh Barua.

In the statement to the Metropolitan Magistrate, Chittagong, Mohammad Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad said the then Ministers for Home and Industries under the four-party government led by Khaleda Zia and some high officials of the intelligence agencies and the coast guard were well aware of the smuggling which also involved a former MP of the Jatiya Party of Gen. H.M. Ershad and a film director.

The Ministry of Home was then led by a high-profile state Minister, Lutfozzaman Babar of the BNP, and the Ministry of Industry was led by Jamaat-e-Islami chief Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami. Mr. Babar is in jail after he was convicted in another case.

The confessional statements said the process of smuggling 10 truck loads of arms and ammunition for the ULFA started in late 2001. The investigation was repeatedly stalled during the Khaleda Zia government, and it resumed seriously after the installation of the new government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hafizur Rahman, who is the principal accused in the case, told the court that he had given the same statement on different occasions since his surrender in 2005. But it was never recorded. Instead, the officials concerned warned him against making such statements and threatened him with death, a number of leading Bangladesh dailies reported quoting Hafiz’s statement. Hafiz also said three others, including Ashik and Jewel, took delivery of the arms cache from a ship near Saint Martin’s Island, loaded two engine boats with the weapons and guided them up to the jetty of the government-owned Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) across the Karnaphuli river.

Narrating how he was introduced to Paresh Barua, Hafiz said a month before the October 2001 Parliament election, film director Ajmal Huda Mithu invited him to a private event at his residence in Dhaka, and introduced him to the former Jatiya Party MP, Golam Faruk Obhi, and another man named Zaman. Zaman kept contact with him over the phone since then.

Fifteen days later, Hafiz got a phone call from Zaman, and he met him and the MP in a fast food shop, Wimpy, in Dhaka. He agreed to help Zaman in receiving and transporting ‘imports’ the latter quite often used to get at the Chittagong port.

After a several months, Zaman called Hafiz over the phone again and met him on the third floor of Rapa Plaza in Dhaka some time in January 2002 and they talked business. Since then, Zaman was paying Hafiz taka 50,000 to 70,000 a month, the statement claimed.

Intimacy

At one stage of the increasing intimacy, Zaman invited Hafiz to his residence in Dhanmondi of Dhaka. In his apartment, Zaman introduced Hafiz to his wife, two children, Babu and Aaksah, and an adopted son. He also gave Hafiz taka 80,000 at that time.

After paying some taka 18 lakh in this way, Zaman finally called Hafiz to Dhaka to reveal his real identity in February 2004.

“As I met him in Rapa Plaza, Zaman this time around had with him a girl of about 10. He revealed himself as ULFA military wing chief, Paresh Barua, and the girl as the daughter of Anup Chetia,” said Hafiz in his confession.

Anup Chetia, one of the top ULFA leaders, was arrested in Bangladesh in 1996 and is believed to be in prison since then. “Zaman or Paresh Barua also claimed that he looked after Anup’s family, while some people of intelligence agencies ensured their safety,” Hafiz said, the newspapers reported.

“On March 23 or 24, Paresh called for me on an emergency basis. I immediately rushed to Dhaka and rented a room in Red Star Hotel opposite Rajarbagh Police Line, and met him at Wimpy again.”

“Paresh asked me to help him to transport a delivery of some machinery from a ship anchored in the sea near the Myanmar border near Saint’s Martin Island. He said the goods could not be brought to Chittagong port due to some technical problems. Asked about the required permission from the Bangladesh Navy, the Coast Guard, the customs authority, and the CUFL jetty authority, he said the NSI and DGFI chiefs had made all arrangements, and the jetty permission had also already been there, so nobody would ask me any question,” said Hafiz.

“I returned to the hotel and went to the same restaurant again early next morning. After some fifteen minutes, Paresh came with another person in a white car which had ‘on test’ written on the registration plate. The man with Paresh was introduced to me as Ashik. He gave me 50 lakh taka in four packets. Then I and Ashik went to Chittagong in the same car. Leaving Ashik in Golden Inn hotel in Chittagong I went to meet Hazi Sobhan, and rented two engine boats for around 13 lakh taka. Sobhan was to keep the engine boats ready near the Marine Academy pier.”

“Around 10.30 that night a vessel came to our view. We approached the vessel and following directions given by Paresh, Ashik started talking to the captain in English. Following exchange of some codes which sounded like passwords, Ashik was allowed to anchor the boats next to the other vessel.”