Fighting Back in Bangladesh

By Nora Boustany
Friday, April 14, 2006

R eaz Rahman , foreign affairs adviser to the government of Bangladesh, visited Washington this week to try to allay concerns over latent Islamic militancy and to update officials on the arrests of radical leaders and their followers as political unrest continues in the country.

In an interview Wednesday, Rahman said the members of organizations behind a wave of bombings last year were on the run. He also said the government did not see a link between the groups and al-Qaeda. "Still, it is a constant process and we cannot be complacent," he said.

Last month, Bangladeshi authorities arrested several leaders of Jamaat-ul-Mujaheddin Bangladesh and the Jagrata Muslim Janata group, including Sidiqul Islam , and rounded up 900 of their followers, Rahman said. The two movements were behind the August bombings in various districts of Bangladesh that killed more than two dozen people.

Rahman said the government had enlisted mosques and religious schools in the effort to bring the bombers to justice. He said the financial sources of some of the schools, which serve impoverished parts of the country, were under scrutiny. "The war against poverty is our real war," he said.

Bangladesh has made some progress. Sixty million children under age 15 are enrolled in school, and more girls than boys attend classes, a reversal of the previous pattern in which teenage girls from needy families often dropped out of school and married, he said. Infant mortality rates have also fallen, he noted.

Taking Greece to China

Could Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) have been an oracle in a previous life? In this age, he seems to have come close.

Sarbanes, a child of Greek immigrants, and his British-born wife, Christine , often take in exhibits at the British Museum while visiting London. During a trip several years ago, they toured the museum's Duveen Gallery, where the contested Parthenon sculptures -- Elgin Marbles to the British -- are showcased.

Sarbanes questioned the guide about demands by Greece to have the artifacts repatriated to Athens. "We shouldn't. We take much better care of them here," he remembered her saying. The application of a whitening solution to the sculptures had damaged their surface in the 1930s, he reminded her. "Oh, yes. But besides, if the marbles stay here, so many more people will see them," she maintained.

"Why, by that logic, they should be in Beijing," Sarbanes blurted out to the flustered guide.

It was prescient. Sort of.

Though the Brits are holding on to the marbles, the Greek minister of tourism, Fanny Palli-Petralia , said Sunday that her Chinese counterparts had negotiated a six-month exhibit of Olympic antiquities to coincide with the 2008 Games in Beijing.

"We have signed an agreement. The Chinese have asked for pointers on how my country prepared for the 2004 Olympic Games. I have been there several times, and I have even chosen the space where the artifacts will be displayed," she said during a dinner hosted by Alexandros P. Mallias , Greece's ambassador to Washington. As a member of the previous Greek government, Palli-Petralia helped implement a plan for the use of the sports venues after the Games.

Greece attracts 13 million visitors each year, she said, and was gearing up for the Chinese market, especially its rising middle class, she added. "We love American tourists, too, and we would like to have more of them come," she said.

Divisions on Ethiopia

The Ethiopian American Council and the Ethiopian National Congress, a nonprofit civic group, celebrated last Thursday after the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations voted to send a bill about Ethiopia to the floor for a vote. The bill covers several issues, including political prisoners and human rights.

After hearing testimony from Mesfin Mekonen , an activist from the council, and the acting Ethiopian ambassador, Fesseha Asghedom Tessema , members of the subcommittee endorsed HR 4423, the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The legislation, sponsored by the subcommittee chairman, Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), includes a ban on travel to the United States by government officials involved in the shooting of demonstrators last year. The embassy contends it would interfere in Ethiopia's internal politics and harm relations.

Fesseha said at the hearing that Ethiopia's economy was growing and that the country was learning "through experience how to become a better democracy." Fesseha also cited the increase in the number of opposition seats in Parliament, from 12 to 172, as evidence of progress.

Mekonen, however, testified that new rules do not allow the opposition to debate issues and are aimed only at providing the appearance of democracy. "The U.S. State Department has insisted that those elected should take their seats in Parliament. Ethiopians are not, however, willing to settle for an imaginary, or third-class, democracy," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company