The deadly terror attack on an upscale Gulshan cafe in Dhaka last year stalled many Japan-aided development projects in Bangladesh as the Japanese officials working in those projects left the country after the attack.
They returned toward the end of last year after the Bangladesh government assured the Japanese government of top-notch security for its citizens, but the projects got delayed by at least six months.
Five militants attacked Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, 2016 and killed 20 hostages including 17 foreign nationals, seven of whom were Japanese and had been visiting Bangladesh to work on the Dhaka metro rail project.
Earlier on October 3, 2015, Japanese citizen Hoshi Kunio was gunned down by militants in Rangpur.
Following the Dhaka attack, most of the Japanese nationals working in Bangladesh left due to security concerns, which stalled many ongoing projects in the country, said sources at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) under the Ministry of Finance.
This situation also set back the government's plan to finish many projects by 2018 or 2019, ahead of the next parliamentary election, they added.
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The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), one of the biggest development partners of Bangladesh, are implementing 35 projects in the country, including some high-profile ones such as the Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Project, also known as Dhaka metro rail project, the 1,200MW Matarbari coal-fired power plant in Cox's Bazar, and the construction of new Kanchpur, Meghna and Meghna-Gumti bridges on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
Besides communication and power sectors, Jica is funding and implementing many projects in health, education, water and sanitation, disaster, agriculture and rural development sectors.
ERD sources said representatives of Bangladesh government had a series of meetings with both the Japanese government and Jica in Dhaka and Tokyo between August and December last year to convince them of the improving law and order situation in Bangladesh.
It took the Bangladesh government around six months of negotiations to completely convince the Japanese authorities that working in Bangladesh would be safe.
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Some of the Japanese officials came back to Bangladesh in September, but most of them returned later and work on the stalled projects did not fully resume until January this year.
“The Japanese are sensitive people, but they are also committed. Luckily, they have decided to return to our country to complete their tasks,” said ERD Joint Secretary (Japan wing) Dr Aminur Rahman Md Tariq.
“The recent updates on the Japan-aided projects is impressive, and that is due to the return of the Japanese officials which was made possible by our government,” he added.
MAN Siddique, secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division which is implementing the Dhaka metro rail and the bridges projects, said it was better not to discuss the terror attack.
“The attack is a horrible and sad event in our country's history, but we have overcome it by improving our law and order situation. There is no point opening up old wounds by remembering the attack.”
More to Read- Only Japanese men allowed back to Bangladesh after Gulshan attack
Major projects funded by Japan
One of the major projects that Japan is involved with is the Dhaka metro rail project. The Road Transport and Highways Division is currently constructing Line 6 of metro rail, which will connect Uttara with Motijheel, under the direct supervision of Jica. The cost of Line 6 is estimated to be Tk22,000 crore, around two-thirds of which is being provided by Jica.
In addition, 12 Jica consultants are currently working on the feasibility study for Lines 1 and 5 of the metro rail.
Although the project faces major set back in the aftermath of the Dhaka terror attack, the government is committed to complete the Uttara-Agargaon stretch of Line 6 by December 2019.
The Japanese consultants and contractors involved in the Kanchpur Bridge, Meghna Bridge and Meghna-Gumti Bridge projects have resumed working under tight security.
The projects are worth Tk8,487 crore in total, of which Japan is providing Tk6,424 crore as soft loan. The projects are expected to be finished by 2018.
Five months after the terror attack, top officials of the Japanese embassy in Dhaka along with high officials of Bangladesh government visited the site of Matarbari power plant project near Maheshkhali in Cox's Bazar in November. Satisfied with the security at the site, the Japanese officials involved with the project resumed work within a month.
The total cost of the power plant project is estimated at Tk35,984 crore, of which Japan is providing Tk28,939 crore as soft loan.