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Army asking Phulbari people to leave project site: activist alleges PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 May 2008

A citizens' organisation campaigning to protect national resources Sunday alleged that army personnel had been intimidating the people of Phulbari to leave the coalmine project area.

"The survey by military personnel in the area sparked panic among people," Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, claimed at a press conference in Purana Paltan.

The organisation demanded that the Phulbari coalmine project be scrapped in line with a pledge an elected government had made two years ago.

It also demanded expulsion of London-based energy firm Asia Energy from Bangladesh and cancellation of export-focused production and distribution agreements.

Contacted by, Phulbari upazila nirbahi officer AKM Shamim Akter said: "Locals informed me about the matter. It is completely a matter of the army. I have nothing to say."

Two local businessmen said the army personnel asked them 19 questions about the coalmine but added that they had not coerced them into supporting them.

Anu Muhammad, who teaches economics at Jahangirnagar University, claimed that the British government had kept up pressure on Bangladesh to implement the Phulbari coalmine project.

On the army survey, he alleged: "Some army personnel in uniform are travelling the area and asking the people whether they would agree to leave the village in return for compensation." He asked the government to immediately settle the long-drawn issue.

"The government can conduct any survey. But military uniform sparks panic among people. A survey cannot be conducted this way," he said. The campaign activist said the survey was carried out in a village next to the Phulbari town.

The Dinajpur district administration, which was informed of the matter, said it would enquire about it. Army officers said they wanted to protect national resources. Anu Muhammad said people of the country treated army as a neutral force.

"The people will never accept it if the armed forces were used against them to allow foreign companies to loot their property." He alleged that Asia Energy threw up shady organisations that use journalists, consultants and former bureaucrats for its benefit.

"It is trying to buy newspapers by giving advertisements and to make agents by alluring them into lucrative propositions." The convener of the organisation, Muhammad Shahidullah, said army personnel had been asking the people if they were ready to leave the area with compensation. They had put pressure on the inhabitants for a direct answer, he alleged.

The army men were allegedly asking shopkeepers in Phulbari if they paid toll to the national committee. Shahidullah alleged that the local administration of Phulbari was scared.

"If anybody goes there, detectives follow him." Anu Muhammad claimed to have been barred from going to Birampur. There is no need to conduct a survey over Phulbari.

The people have already given their verdict." On the agreement on Phulbari coalmine, he said that there was no such agreement that could not be scrapped. Shahidullah vowed that their movement against Asia Energy would continue. He said up to 80 lakh cubic feet of gas was being destroyed every day in Titas gasfield.

"US energy firm Chevron owes Bangladesh at least Tk 9,000 crore because of Magurchhara explosion. But this government like the previous government has taken no steps to realise the money.

"We have to pay Tk 1,500 crore in subsidy instead due to a previous production and distribution agreement," he said. hours

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