Four dead in fire on a passenger train in Bangladesh, BNP demands UN probe

Railway officials said that most of the train’s nearly 292 passengers were returning home from India.

January 06, 2024 09:21 am | Updated 09:47 pm IST - DHAKA

People stand near a burning passenger train at Gopibagh in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

People stand near a burning passenger train at Gopibagh in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

Bangladesh’s main opposition BNP has demanded a UN-supervised investigation into a fire on a passenger train that killed four persons, calling it a “pre-planned” act of sabotage ahead of the general elections being boycotted by the party.

The incident happened around 9 pm on Friday when four carriages of the Benapole Express that runs from Benapole, a town bordering the Indian state of West Bengal, were set on fire as it nearly reached its destination of the capital’s Kamalapur Railway Station.

Railway officials said that most of the train’s nearly 292 passengers were returning home from India.

Shahjahan Sikder, deputy assistant director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Media Cell, said they recovered four bodies from the gutted coaches of the train.

In a statement, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) senior Joint Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi expressed concern over the “heartbreaking incident of casualties due to arson by miscreants on the Benapole Express train headed from Benapole to Dhaka”.

“There is no doubt that the Benapole Express train fire was an act of sabotage, leading to the loss of life,” The Daily Star newspaper quoted Rizvi as saying.

He termed it an “inhuman brutal atrocity against humanity” and called for a UN-supervised investigation into the incident, the paper said.

Rizvi said that the incident was “pre-planned” and called for the immediate arrest and punishment of the “perpetrators involved”. Bangladesh police on Saturday arrested seven Opposition party members blamed for the alleged pre-election arson attack on the packed commuter train.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock and sorrow at the loss of four lives in the Benapole Express train fire. She directed the authorities concerned to investigate whether the fire was an act of sabotage.

She also prayed for the salvation of the departed souls and directed the authorities to take immediate steps for the treatment of the injured.

Bangladesh goes to polls on Sunday. More than 100 foreign observers, including three from India, have reached Dhaka to monitor the general election.

Led by former prime minister Khalida Zia, the BNP is boycotting the general election and it is demanding an interim non-party neutral government to hold the election.

The demand was rejected by the government headed by Prime Minister Hasina, who is heading the ruling Awami League.

Foreign Ministry officials said a three-member delegation from the Election Commission of India reached Dhaka on Friday while 122 others from different countries were set to be here ahead of the January 7 polls, which the United Nations said would watch closely.

Four killed

At least four people, including a child, died in a suspected arson attack on a passenger train, police said on Saturday, January 6, 2024, the eve of a general election that the main opposition party is boycotting.

In addition to the deaths, eight were injured when fire spread to four compartments of the Dhaka-bound Benapole Express around 9 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotting for the second time in three elections, calls the polls a ploy by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League to legitimise a sham vote that will deliver her party a fourth straight term.

The train fire in Dhaka's Wari area was brought under control by seven firefighting units after about an hour, fire service official Shahjahan Sikder said.

"Investigation is under way, but it seems the train was deliberately set on fire," said railway police official Ferdous Ahmed.

An official at the Wari police station said police suspected "sabotage" and would be able to confirm the cause of the fire only after the investigation.

The BNP has asked citizens to shun the poll and called a two-day strike in the country from January 5, 2024.

About 800,000 police, paramilitary and police auxiliaries are to guard polling booths on Sunday. Officials of the army, navy and air force have also been deployed across the country to maintain peace.

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