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Dhaka Tribune

US delegation backs free polls, leaves dialogue to Bangladesh

  • Uzra Zeya calls on PM Hasina, other ministers
  • PM Hasina, ministers express commitment to conducting free, fair polls
  • US to provide $74 million in additional funding to Bangladesh, Myanmar
  • Nearly $61 million to support Rohingyas
  • Sees Wednesday’s political rallies as good harbinger
Update : 13 Jul 2023, 05:26 PM

Visiting US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya said on Thursday that it was up to Bangladesh to decide the election timetables and they did not have any direct engagement in dialogue between political parties.

She made the comment while replying to a question after his meeting with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the state guesthouse Padma.

Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, US ambassador in Dhaka Peter Haas were also present. 

The US took the centre of the attention in Bangladesh's politics ahead of the upcoming general elections following its announcement of a new visa policy related to holding free and fair polls. The election is scheduled to be held in January. Under this policy, the US will be able to deny visas to those who obstruct the election process in Bangladesh.

Opposition BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during the election time and install an interim government to oversee the elections.

The ruling Awami League, however, said the election will be held as per the constitution which means that the PM will remain in position during the elections like other countries in the world.

The visiting Under Secretary met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday morning at Ganabhaban when she conveyed that the visa policy was aimed at helping her to deliver her commitment to hold free, and fair elections.

The prime minister reiterated her position and said: “We always fought for free and fair elections in the country, we already have held free and fair elections.”

After the meeting with the foreign secretary, Uzra Zeya said that she came here “in recognition of the importance of our partnership with Bangladesh and to underscore the US desire to deepen that partnership, in support of our vision of a free and open Indo Pacific anchored in resilience that is more resilient, more connected, more secure, and more prosperous.”

Replying to a question she said, she have heard “a strong commitment” from the prime minister and all of the government ministers with whom she had meet in support of free and fair and peaceful elections and the United States as part of our global human rights policy supports free and fair and peaceful elections and we want to do our part as a longtime partner of Bangladesh to help make this possible.”

She, however, said the question of the timetable of the elections is for Bangladesh to decide. “We are all for dialogue that we do not have any direct involvement in what you described,” she said, when asked about the US position on holding a dialogue between the major parties.

“I think we've had constructive, productive and engaging discussions. And I would say yesterday (Wednesday), we witnessed large political rallies that were included, thankfully, free of serious violence, and I think this is a good Harbinger that we would like to see replicated,” she said, replying to a question.

As the general elections are approaching, the State Department is sending one after another delegation to Bangladesh.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, however, had said those visits were US administration's efforts to strengthen the relationship with Bangladesh further.

In an article, the foreign minister wrote currently Bangladesh and the US are working together in collaboration and partnership on a number of multifaceted issues such as climate change, Rohingya issue, women's empowerment, UN peacekeeping, health and labour issues, trade and investment, energy and renewable energy sector, economic development, people's empowerment, education, skill training and digital innovations. In addition, the USA is engaged with us to help improve the democratic process, rule of law, and freedom of press and media, among others.

The under secretary said the United States looks forward to deepening its engagement with Bangladesh over the next 50 years and beyond.

"Our cooperation on climate change development, the economy, humanitarian assistance and security shows the range of our strong partnership and future potential,” she said.

"A prosperous future depends on strong democratic institutions, and the broad participation of Bangladeshis and elections and the governance of their country. The United States looks forward to continued collaboration for a supportive and inclusive, democratic Bangladesh, in which all the people of Bangladesh can thrive."                  

"We also discussed the need for free and fair elections, the ability of journalists to report the news without fear of retaliation or intimidation, collaboration to combat trafficking in persons and the vital role that civil society plays in democracies, advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and association,” she said, about her meetings in Dhaka. 

Under Secretary Zeya visited Rohingya camps on Wednesday and said: "US is proud to be the leading donor of humanitarian aid to Rohingya and urges worldwide partners' assistance for the Rohingyas.” Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar's Rakhine State. Most of them took shelter following the August 2017 ‘ethnic cleansing'.

She said the US has provided more than $2.1 billion in humanitarian assistance to support refugees and host communities in Bangladesh and the region since August 2017. 

To that end, she announced that the United States is providing more than $74 million in additional funding to support humanitarian response efforts in Myanmar and Bangladesh. 

This includes nearly $61 million to support Rohingya internally displaced in Myanmar, as well as Rohingya refugees living here in Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi host community members.

She will leave Dhaka for Washington in the early morning of Friday.

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