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Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the response by the Bangladesh authorities to the grenade attack on 21 August 2004 on Opposition leaders; and if she will make a statement. (94889)

The Bangladeshi authorities made some arrests in connection with the 21 August 2004 attack last year, but so far these have not, to our knowledge, resulted in any prosecutions. We have noted the recent arrests of a number of suspects in connection with similar grenade attacks and take this as a sign of the Government of Bangladesh’s commitment to resolving all such cases. We very much hope to see further progress with the investigations into the 21 August attack. We have regularly stressed both privately and in public to the Government of Bangladesh the importance of this, not least for those who were injured and for the relatives of those who died. We maintain a regular dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh on countering political and extremist violence and the need to deal with terrorism and extremism in a sustained and effective way, while at the same time respecting human rights and the rule of law.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if her Department will take steps better to co-ordinate representations from the UK, EU, US, the Commonwealth and Japan for a proper electoral process in Bangladesh; and if she will make a statement. (94890)

Officials from our High Commission in Dhaka and here in London are in close contact with the EU, US and Commonwealth Secretariat on monitoring the elections in Bangladesh, due to take place in January 2007.

The elections are coming at a critical time for Bangladesh. It is essential that these elections are seen to be free, fair, peaceful and accepted. Recent election evaluation missions by the UN, EU and US have consistently identified important points for the main political parties to address to ensure elections reach the required standards. A fully independent and competent Election Commission has a vital role to play in compiling a complete and accurate voter list. Law enforcement agencies will need to ensure that there is no manipulation of ballots. The electorate should be able to exercise its democratic mandate in a secure and peaceful way. Political parties should be allowed to campaign freely and protest peacefully. The caretaker Government charged with overseeing the elections should ensure no political bias. The election must enjoy the confidence of all international observers. We will continue to take a close interest in preparations for elections, but ultimately it is for the parties and the people of Bangladesh to find solutions and make their elections a success. We encourage the parties to continue talking with each other to this end.