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Villagers hunt bandits, wreak vengeance

By Haroon Habib

DHAKA DEC. 13. It was vigilantism on the loose.

The people of southern islands hunted "jungle bandits" for a week, killing 38 of them and setting ablaze hundreds of their houses.

The lynching spree in Bangladesh's remote southern Noakhali District — that included gouging out of the robbers' eyes — has raised questions on the rule of law.

Thousands of vengeful villagers joined the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles, police and coastguard only to take the law into their hands even as the local administration looked the other way.

The villagers had been victims of loot, murder and rape by these robbers for years.

Little wonder, when the "bandits" on the run were caught, they were exterminated in public.

According to newspaper reports, there was almost no attempt by the law enforcing agencies to save the victims.

The Superintendent of Police, Noakhali, said that over 100 operatives of four robber gangs had been arrested since a combing operation launched early this month.

Police stormed many of their hideouts and seized firearms.

Lynching of "robbers" is not uncommon in the country.

Though senior ministers visit the "bandit zone," urging people not to "enforce the rule of law" the villagers tell them that the "joint operation" against the bandits will not stop until the bandits are exterminated.

According to Mohammad Shahjahan, a ruling party legislator, the bandits had killed "at least 200 people and raped more than 2,000 women with the patronage of some influential local leaders" out to convert farmlands into fish farms.

"While the `ordinary bandits' are victimised, their godfathers remain untouched. The bandits liaise with their `bosses' and pay them `tolls' regularly," says Habibur Rahman, officer-in-charge of the Char Jabbar police station.

Bloody clashes among gangsters are a "yearly ritual" in this area.

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