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BNP denies role in ’04 arms haul case
 NEW DELHI, Oct 30 – On the defensive over the infamous Chittagong arms haul case, the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on Tuesday denied its role, saying that the party may opt for an independent inquiry.The clarification by spokesman of BNP president, Shamsher Moiduddin Chaudhury assumes importance because of the alleged role played by former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Zia in the multi-million dollar arms smuggling case. The shipment was meant for ULFA and commander-in-chief of the outfit, Paresh Barua was directly involved.

Replying to a question, Begum Khaleda Zia’s spokesman said that BNP would prefer an independent inquiry into the arms haul case. But such things should not happen, he added, denying BNP’s hand in the case. The arms haul of 2004 had soured relations between the two neighbours.

When asked about BNP’s stand on the Chittagong arms haul case and whether Tarique Zia would be let off, if it comes to power, the spokesman said, BNP does not believe in speculations but proper investigation into the case would be ordered.

India suspects that Paresh Barua maintained close links with Tarique Zia, and the two held several meetings ahead of the Chittagong arms haul of April 2004.

Hafizur Rahman, the prime accused in the case had claimed that Khaleda Zia’s son was involved in smuggling of weapons believed to be destined for ULFA militants. ULFA’s top leaders, including Paresh Barua, are wanted in Bangladesh.

In his 43-page confession, Hafiz told the court that he had escorted Baruah to Hawa Bhaban days ahead of offloading the consignment. “Paresh Baruah entered Hawa Bhaban leaving me outside at the entrance and had a meeting with Tarique Rahman,” Bangladeshi media quoting officials, had widely reported.

Tarique, who is senior vice-chairman of BNP, faces a number of graft and criminal cases and is now in London. Party leaders said he is undergoing treatment there.

In what is being described as 180 degree turn by the BNP, the spokesman said that if it comes to power in Bangladesh in the next election, it would immediately sign the extradition treaty with India. The party also said that it has no objection to India being partner in the consortium promoted by China to develop Chittagong Port.

Meanwhile, Khaleda Zia today met Minister of External Affairs Salman Khursid and National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon.

A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that at the meeting between Khaleda Zia and Khursid, all core issues including the issues relating to terrorism, land boundary agreement, sharing of Teesta water, figured. The parleys covered all areas of mutual interest and was extremely cordial,” he said.

Begum Zia said the meeting with Indian leaders marked a new beginning. She conveyed that BNP believed in looking forward and not at the rear view mirror. She is on a week-long tour to India at the invitation of the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry as part of its initiative of engaging with leaders of various political parties of neighbouring countries.

The chairperson of BNP also assured that the BNP would not allow soil of Bangladesh to be used by forces inimical to India’s interest, MEA spokesman confirmed.

When asked whether Government of India (GoI) was convinced by Zia’s assurances, the spokesman declined to comment, and tried to wriggle out by reiterating her pro-India statements.

The spokesman further added that India has explained the contours of the process of ratification of the Teesta water sharing agreement and the land boundary agreement.

Begum Zia is leaving for Ajmer to visit the sacred shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. She had last visited India, in her official capacity as the Prime Minister, in 2006.

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