Amb. Shamsher M. Chowdhury of Bangladesh cut short a working visit to Iowa yesterday to confer with officials from his government and the United States about the detonation of at least 200 homemade bombs in 60 cities and towns across Bangladesh Wednesday. Miraculously, only two people were killed, but more than 100 were injured.
"Though there has been more loss of life before, the scale of these attacks, the number of explosions occurring in such a short time we have not seen before," he said in a telephone interview on his way to the airport yesterday.
The bombings, which targeted busy streets, courthouses and other government buildings, erupted just after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left Dhaka, the capital, to begin a five-day visit to China.
Chowdhury, whose government has sought U.S. assistance in combating terrorism, said his country was given "assurances in the wake of the bombings that Washington would stand by the people of Bangladesh at this hour."
Bangladesh, a poor country prone to typhoons and flooding, has a history of intense rivalry between the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the main opposition party, the Awami League, marred by assassinations and other political violence over the years.
Leaflets found at the bombing sites carrying the name of Jumatul Mujaheddin, a banned Islamic group, called for Islamic rule in Bangladesh and warned the United States and Britain against the occupation of Muslim countries, the Reuters news agency reported.
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Awami League, demanded an international probe into the blasts.
Chowdhury cautioned: "The authorities in the districts are still investigating, a number of people have been rounded up and they are being questioned. It is still too early to start drawing any conclusions."
Chowdhury was one of nearly 70 ambassadors and attaches visiting Iowa for a five-day tour hosted by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The dignitaries visited industrial sites and universities across the state.
"We each stayed with a different family every night," Chowdhury said. "Over dinner, we told them about our countries, our issues, and they talked to us about their home regions and lives. That was a very rewarding experience."
Departing Indonesian Ambassador Feted
Three and a half years and a tsunami later, Indonesia's ambassador, Soemadi D. M. Brotodiningrat, is returning home. His counterpart from Singapore, Heng Chee Chan, who gave a welcome dinner for Brotodiningrat when he arrived, hosted his farewell dinner Monday evening.
Brotodiningrat's golf buddies, companions in antique browsing, and senior officials, academics and media types toasted him.
"No diplomat dies, he just fades away," Brotodiningrat quipped, making Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous phrase about soldiers his own.
Brotodiningrat, who will take over his country's free trade portfolio with Japan, will be remembered for his candor. Chan recalled an incident at a seminar at a research organization in Washington in which Brotodiningrat, a "sincere, open and serious" man, told U.S. officials and academics that the United States had made life difficult for its friends by failing to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Dinner conversation, around a feast of green papaya and shrimp salad, asparagus and crab soup, and sweet and sour fish, inevitably veered toward how the United States perceives the world and how other countries perceive the United States -- and what the role of emerging Muslim democracies such as Indonesia are in that debate.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; Peter W. Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; and other guests, including Karl Jackson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, joined the conversation. The group also mentioned the termination of the United States Information Service and the diminishing number of visas for exchange students as reasons for the gap in understanding and acceptance between East and West.
The pearl of wisdom of the evening, however, came from the Japanese ambassador, Ryozo Kato, who said that nurturing understanding "is like gardening. It takes effort on both sides."
Kato told a story about a capable Japanese interpreter who had accompanied senior Japanese officials to Indonesia, gaining the trust of Indonesian leaders and interpreting for American visitors as well. When complimented, the interpreter credited his success and expertise to a two-year, U.S.-sponsored course in Japan, Kato recalled.
Ties With Indonesian Military Questioned
As Senate and House negotiators prepare to reconcile different versions of the foreign operations appropriations bill, 54 U.S. representatives have written a letter to President Bush urging him to reconsider strengthening ties with the Indonesian military because of the "persistence of obvious human rights, accountability, and security reform problems in Indonesia."