This article was published today (Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013) in the New Age newspaper, and is reproduced here)
Actions of AL, BNP ‘destabilising’ the country’: EU envoys
Ambassadors in Dhaka representing European Union countries have made a written request to the government seeking a meeting with prime minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss the current political impasse over an election-time government, but have so far not received any response.
‘There is an urgency amongst my colleagues and I to meet with the prime minister, ’ Dr Albrecht Conze, the German ambassador, told New Age on Monday.
The request for a meeting with the prime minister was sent last week prior to European ambassadors’ meeting with Khaleda Zia last Thursday evening.
On Sunday, European Union ambassadors met to discuss how to respond to the disruption caused to the country by the BNP-organised hartals, the recent arrests of opposition political leaders and the lack of dialogue between the Awami League and BNP over a mutually agreeable election-time government.
One European ambassador who attended the meeting told New Age that the message which the ambassadors now wanted to convey to both the BNP and AL was that ‘disruption of public order through hartals and the arrest of senior opposition leaders was destablising the country.’
BNP has enforced a total of seven days of strike over the last two weeks in which a number of people have been burnt to death, and on Saturday the Awami League government arrested five BNP leaders, including two members of parliament.
The European Union remains undecided whether or not to send election observers to Bangladesh.
Towards the end of October, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy wrote to the foreign minister, Dipu Moni, stating that the EU was willing to observe the polls in Bangladesh on two conditions.
The first condition was that the government signed a memorandum of understanding which would allow election monitors unrestricted access to the country, and the second one stated that observers would only be sent if the ‘political and security situation’ in the country was conducive to their presence.
The European Union has received no formal response to the letter but one diplomat told New Age that it had been told by government officials that no memorandum of understanding could be signed until a date for elections had first been announced.
The EU diplomats are concerned that this delay may result in the observers, which usually include long term monitors, having insufficient time to come to Bangladesh, particularly as the Christmas period is likely to occur just prior to any election.
The same western diplomat said that the second condition indicated that there ‘has to be the right political and security environment [before the observers come] and what this means is open to interpretation.’
‘Even if the monitors come, they can at any time be called back as happened in 2006,’ the diplomat said.
The EU had suspended its observer mission in January 2007, the day that the army effectively took control from the then caretaker government under President Iajuddin Ahmed, arguing that ‘conditions for credible and meaningful elections did not currently exist’.
Prior to this, the country had been racked by violence in the run-up to the planned January 22 polls, with a united opposition led by then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina deciding to abstain from the elections.
The EU diplomats are keenly aware that a decision not to send the monitors could result in having fewer sources of information that will allow them to make an assessment of the fairness of any election.
‘It will be a finely balanced decision,’ whether to send the observers if the BNP does not participate in the elections, the diplomat said.
The diplomats have yet to take a final view about how BNP’s lack of participation in the election, due to take place by 24 January 2014, will impact upon its decision about the credibility of the poll.