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Development partnership with China and others’

Sadeq Khan

A high-level Chinese delegation led by China’s Vice-Premier Madame Liu Yandong along with several other ministers are due to visit Dhaka next week on a specific bilateral mission. They will negotiate a comprehensive programme of further Chinese participation in the development agenda of Bangladesh, and sign a number of agreements for economic and human development cooperation.

Hopefully through the occasion of yearlong celebration of 40 years of China-Bangladesh diplomatic relations, before December this year, if we can be ready, Bangladesh may expect a higher level visit from the Prime Minister of China and reciprocal visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to China to witness signing of a number of more agreements to build a development dynamics in our country at par with the momentum of South and Southeast Asian development dynamics unleashed by the Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Full Story

Sadeq Khan

A high-level Chinese delegation led by China’s Vice-Premier Madame Liu Yandong along with several other ministers are due to visit Dhaka next week on a specific bilateral mission. They will negotiate a comprehensive programme of further Chinese participation in the development agenda of Bangladesh, and sign a number of agreements for economic and human development cooperation.

Hopefully through the occasion of yearlong celebration of 40 years of China-Bangladesh diplomatic relations, before December this year, if we can be ready, Bangladesh may expect a higher level visit from the Prime Minister of China and reciprocal visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to China to witness signing of a number of more agreements to build a development dynamics in our country at par with the momentum of South and Southeast Asian development dynamics unleashed by the Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Regional dynamics & Bangladesh
Indeed the regional development dynamics in the Bay of Bengal belt obtained a sound impetus by the signing of the BCIM-EC (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor) agreed in May, 2013 between Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers, and endorsed in December, 2013 in Joint Study Group meeting by Bangladesh and Myanmar; by the announcement of the Big-B initiatives (Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt) by Japan in May 2014, followed by Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in September the same year; by the launching of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing in October, 2014; by the endorsement of Asia-Pacific leaders of the idea of Free Trade Area of the Asia and Pacific mooted at the APEC Summit in Beijing in November, 2014 by President Xi Jinping, and his announcement of the Belt and Road initiative as a blueprint for comprehensive connectivity with other continents; by the US-India Joint Strategic Vision statement by US President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Modi in January 2015 “to support sustainable, inclusive development, and increased regional connectivity by collaborating with other interested partners to address poverty and support broad-based prosperity”, and to “promote accelerated infrastructure connectivity and economic development in a manner that links South, Southeast and Central Asia”; and last but not the least by the “candid, constructive and friendly “discussions with President Xi and Premier Li of China by Prime Minister Modi of India who declared, “the re-emergence of India and China and their relationship will have a profound impact on the two countries and the course of this century”, and also declared the common intent “to strengthen regional connectivity”, during the latter’s 3-day visit to China this month. But are we, in Bangladesh, getting ready for the development drive adequately and fast enough?

Fatalistic nonchalance
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and most of her ministers are spending most of their time in opposition-bashing and in propaganda blitz about dynastic claims of her “right to rule” with unrestrained authoritarianism and abuse of coercive powers of the state. The administration is beset with corruption, nepotism, extortion, denial of justice, dereliction of duty and indecision, hampering growth and depriving common people of the fruits of gigantic efforts they are making in productive activity.
The real opposition has been cornered by police terror and the development agencies of the government are in disarray under bloody turf-war menace of the feuding political mafia. Many high-sounding and ambitions projects are announced, with little progress or grossly faulty execution. Too many people close to the “consensus government” of the Prime Ministerial autocracy are in a hurry to make a killing quick buck at every level of economic activity, under government, non-government or private commerce.
Those in power appear to have a fatalistic nonchalance taking it for granted that Almighty Allah, who has granted them the divine license to suck up the milk and honey of their domain, would somehow manage to look after the country people, and big powers in the geo-political game of the region will take care of the nation’s drift towards chaos. Contemporary situation in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine suggest that such callousness and wishful thinking may very well result in blood-bath, long drawn conflicts, and suicidal mass exodus leading to nowhere with abysmal human misery. Even if such critical stage of national dismemberment does not arise, in the immediate term we may stand to lose appropriate development cooperation that is now on the table to negotiate.
One example of warped thinking can be cited with regard to Sonadia Deep Sea Port project, the decision over which successive governments have been sitting on for over a decade now.

Misguided strategic blunder
Our bureaucratic elite, partly misguided by Western strategic analysts who linked the Chinese offer on the project to a “string of pearls” policy of oceanic connectivity of Chinese naval power projection to ensure an alternative sea-route for Middle Eastern oil and gas supply to China avoiding the stranglehold of Malacca straits (vide Map A), preferred to sit tight with the thought that the Chinese will pursue the project in good time in their own interest. In private, Chinese representatives in several seminars have been warning that other alternatives to Sonadia are available in the Bay of Bengal littorals grounds to China for their oil and gas supply transportation by sea, and of course China is getting gas and oil from Central Asian fields and from Russia by direct pipeline connections.
In fact, in the Bay of Bengal theatre too, China has already completed gas and oil pipeline connection from Shwe marine gas field of Myanmar to Kunming and Nanning in Northwest China through Myanmar territory (vide Map B), rendering Sonadia deep sea port project redundant for oil and gas transportation to China from the Gulf region over a roundabout sea route.
Development of Sonadia Deep Sea Port (or its possible alternative at Matarbari in the same environment of Cox’s Bazar-Chittagong Development zone) is very important for the long-term development of Bangladesh and the sub-Himalayan region beyond. It has prospects of a natural hub for connectivity with Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, on to Myanmar ports, Thailand, Sri Lanka and beyond. But it is our leadership that has to peruse it and to qualify for direct foreign assistance from China and other possible partners including India and the US, and for investment funds committed to infrastructure building like the AIIB.


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‘Salahuddin saga’ puts Dhaka-Delhi ties at cross hairs

M. Shahidul Islam

When the Indian Prime Minister Naredra Modi lands in Dhaka in the first week of June, he will have a hand full to deal with and a mouth full to swallow. He arrives in the company of the West Bengal chief minister Mamta Benarjee who had finally supported the passing of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh in the Indian national Parliament although the much desired Teesta water sharing deal still hangs in a limbo.

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M. Shahidul Islam

When the Indian Prime Minister Naredra Modi lands in Dhaka in the first week of June, he will have a hand full to deal with and a mouth full to swallow. He arrives in the company of the West Bengal chief minister Mamta Benarjee who had finally supported the passing of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh in the Indian national Parliament although the much desired Teesta water sharing deal still hangs in a limbo.

Other irritations have cropped up in the meanwhile following a Meghalaya court’s decision earlier to ban coal export to Bangladesh while much needed stones and pebbles export for the construction of the Padma Bridge too is said to have been suspended temporarily. It is suggested that the temporary suspension of stone-supply from Meghalaya followed Dhaka’s decision to dole out major construction works of the multi-billion dollar bridge to China.

The Salahuddin Saga
Of much import is the healing of public perceptions in Bangladesh which is roiling in the midst of news and rumours that a designated Indian-based spy agency had aided and abetted the alleged kidnapping of BNP joint secretary general, Salahuddin Ahmed.
Bangladeshis want to know how Ahmed landed in Meghalaya after being allegedly kidnapped on March 10 from his hideout in Dhaka’s Uttara. Ahmed’s subsequent arrest by Indian police on May 11 ensures his state of survival, but leaves behind many unanswered questions.
Bangladeshis want to know whether Ahmed voluntarily entered India illegally, or he was kidnapped in Dhaka and whisked away to India with collaborations from Indian secret services. Most importantly, who could be his kidnappers in Bangladesh that are so well connected with Indian secret services?
Besides, if he (Ahmed) had entered India illegally, as is being claimed by authorities in Bangladesh and India, what motivation acted behind this alleged self-orchestrated drama by a central BNP leader, knowing fully well that India might not be a safe place for him to hide?
Above all, Ahmed’s entry to India, legal or illegal, puts the onus on the India authorities to find out who in India could have planned, executed, aided and abetted his disappearance from Dhaka on March 10, or at least who in the Border Security or in any other Security Service could have helped his border-crossing. Conspiracy theory aside, Indian authorities will now have first hand information about the incident by interrogations due to Ahmed being in their custody.
Indian authorities say Ahmed was found roaming in the Golf Link area of Shillong, but he could not have done so for almost two months after his disappearance from Dhaka. Delhi should not be cavalier in making public what Ahmed had to say about the saga.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshis demand the granting of Ahmed’s full civil right to defend himself following his publicly made rebuttal that “I was picked up by plain clothed kidnappers in Dhaka, blind folded, and carried through a two-hour- long journey to an unknown place.” India is looped because that unknown place could be in the Indian state of Meghalaya. The debate in Bangladesh over Ahmed’s mysterious disappearance in Bangladesh and subsequent arrest in India misses few crucial questions as according to media reports, the Indian police are preparing to charge him for illegal entry, and the Bangladesh authorities seem totally evasive and possibly unwilling to get him back home soon.

A Holiday investigation
The fact that Ahmed’s disappearance occurred in the thick of his under-ground efforts to conduct a political movement in Bangladesh to bring down the government may be a pointer to who could have orchestrated this grisly event. Investigators usually tend to link every crime to its ultimate benefactor.
Holiday investigative report noted that Ahmed was found in Shillong on May 11. But according to anonymous sources, Ahmed’s kidnapping was possibly primed by a counter intelligence effort by a spy agency-based in India that had alerted the Hasina administration of a possible military takeover in Bangladesh, to be facilitated by incessant blockade and strikes under BNP leadership and Ahmed’s directives from the hideout from where he was kidnapped.
One of Ahmed’s family sources said, insisting on anonymity, “he had been extensively grilled for days, before being locked up in a small room, only to know the specifics of who in the BNP could have been conniving with the military to stage a putsch.”
The Holiday investigation revealed that the designated spy agency present in India is not the usual suspect like the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW). It is a separate agency under separate command. It is suspected to be active in the region with operatives in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and many other regional and global locations.
One of the sources told this correspondent that counter-intelligence operations inside Bangladesh by the same agency “had preempted successfully a coup plot in Bangladesh in January 2012 by alerting the Hasina administration.”
The coup unmasking incident was later confirmed by Brig. Gen. Muhammad Masud Razzaq of the Bangladesh army, who said, “The military had specific evidence that up to 16 current and former Bangladeshi military officers were involved in the heinous conspiracy.” Two retired officers - Lt. Col. Ehsan Yusuf and Maj. Zakir - were arrested, Razzaq said, adding, “Authorities were also looking for another fugitive serving officer, Maj. Ziaul Haq.”
Sources linked to the Bangladesh army also say the alleged coup plot in January 2012 was another major effort to debilitate Bangladesh armed forces further, following the February 2009 mutiny in the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). Many officers lost their jobs following the January 2012 coup-plotting allegation.

Linking the dots
Collusion between secret services across the India-Bangladesh borders is now being widely suspected in Ahmed’s sudden disappearance. A number of security analysts have picked up the thread of that suspicion, and seek Indian official links.
“Indian military considers the anti-regime threat to the incumbent Bangladesh government a military threat to Delhi’s core strategic interests inside Bangladesh,” said a retired Bangladeshi General, requesting not to be named.
While that may not be true, Prime Minister Modi, with his avowed intent of transparent and supportive neighbourly relations for cooperative growth in the region, may not turn a blind eye to what disruptive spy agencies may be doing in the neighbourhood.
Given the antagonistic public perceptions about India inside Bangladesh, Modi is likely to look beyond the government to government (or government to party camaraderie) relationship and ensure cross-border public fraternity for the greater interest of peace and stability in the region.


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Govt. quiet while traffickers run slave trade in the sea

Faruque Ahmed

Bangladeshis drifting at sea are now bracketed with the stateless Rohingyas drowning in the sea raising questions that while Rohingyas have a desperate cause to escape but what led the poor Bangladeshis to be lured to jump into the sea. 
Next to gold haul through Bangladesh’s airports, human trafficking using the sea beaches has defeated limits of all imaginations. It is difficult to grasp the scale of the tragedy in the sea as they people are drifting in big engine boats and other vessels in the Andaman Sea and Malaccan Strait.

Full Story

Faruque Ahmed

Bangladeshis drifting at sea are now bracketed with the stateless Rohingyas drowning in the sea raising questions that while Rohingyas have a desperate cause to escape but what led the poor Bangladeshis to be lured to jump into the sea. 
Next to gold haul through Bangladesh’s airports, human trafficking using the sea beaches has defeated limits of all imaginations. It is difficult to grasp the scale of the tragedy in the sea as they people are drifting in big engine boats and other vessels in the Andaman Sea and Malaccan Strait.

Abandoned by the human traffickers, thousands of the migrants are attempting to land on the shore of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand creating the biggest internal crisis for them how to deal with the human stream which was not anticipated and became visible only two weeks back. 
After initial refusal to shelter more migrants, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to temporarily shelter the migrants on Wednesday last for one year. Thailand offers assistance. Philippines also announced it would allow migrants on the shore.  But question remains why Bangladesh government is not engaging in the rescue efforts and in plans how to bring them back.

The horror story
As it appears the traffickers initially opened the human trade, dubbed as the modern day slavery from Cox’s Bazar and Tekhnaf beaches and Myanmar coast to Thai jungles. They were camped in the forest and pushed to Malaysia across the border where traffickers promised them lucrative jobs making it a bizarre billion dollar trade in human trafficking.
Meanwhile, the discovery of many mass graves in the Thai jungles in early May along with decomposed bodies and bones of victims shook the world about the cruelty meted out to the victims by the traffickers. Global media headlines also disclosed how the traffickers were extracting ransom from the migrants.
They were initially lured to reach Malaysia costing around $2,000 and were asked to make a token payment and said that the rest can be paid from their salary. But once they are in their grip, they would demand the entire money upfront and would end up in the jungle camps if they fail.
Meanwhile, hundreds perished while the number of hungry people without even drinking water would run into thousands. News report on May 14 said 104 people were killed in an acrimonious fight among inmates of a drifting vessel, carrying over 700 migrants in the Andaman Sea. The fight broke out in their desperate attempt to take hold of the depleting stock of food and water in the vessel. 
Reports said between 7,000 and 9,000 migrants were in the sea last week as new vessels were spotted almost every day. Indonesia and Malaysia sheltered many but they said they were unable to shelter unknown number of people waiting in the sea. Another report said over 3,000 migrants were rescued by regional countries, but some of them also refused to allow the vessels enter into their shores.

Worst humanitarian crisis
UN report said over 25,000 people had left Bangladesh coast from January this year and the total may run closer to one lakh annually in recent past.
Indonesian navy pushed back several vessels and Malaysia closed its shore to migrant vessels last week. Thailand has similarly refused to shelter the migrants making it the worst humanitarian crisis for the region after the Vietnam War.
Question arises why the government kept quiet all through this crisis and failed to see the developing crisis taking pre-emptive steps to foil such criminal attempts. This is a complex problem and its roots lie partially in the government’s failure to reopen the manpower markets for Bangladeshi nationals in Saudi Arabia and UAE which were closed for Bangladeshi workers since 2009 and 2013 respectively. Malaysia also closed recruiting Bangladeshi nationals in 2010 and Dhaka’s subsequent failure to handle the government to government agreement to replace sending workers through private sector agents made the poor desperate job seekers take to this risky and uncertain route. Manpower exports have also nose-dived in Kuwait, Qatar and some other countries.
According to statistics available shows Nepal sent over one lakh workers to Malaysia last year while the number of formal manpower export from Bangladesh had stood at 3,874. Figures also show that Bangladesh sent 7.3 lakh workers in 2007 and 6.83 lakh for 2009. However, availability of jobs for Bangladeshi workers declined to over 38,000 in 2014 showing almost a 95 percent drop.
It raises question as to what our ministry of expatriate welfare and overseas employment is doing. Even in these days of crisis the concerned ministry is maintaining total silence. However, the ministry is blaming the foreign ministry for failure to reopen the Middle East job market. Both manpower and foreign ministries are now blaming the home ministry for its failing to stop the migration by sea saying Police, BGB and Coast Guards were mandated to deal with such crimes.

No visible govt. action
But the fact is that the government is still not in a position to mobilize its machinery to stop human trafficking. This is because there is a nexus between the local law enforcing agencies and the traffickers’ syndicates and the trade is enjoying protection from powerful political quarters. There was no such move in the past to stop the syndicates to exploit the people and even now there is no move to arrest them.
The complex issue of human trafficking and the nexus between powerful quarters and the lawmen was discussed at a seminar recently in the city hosted by National Human Rights Commission. Coast Guard and BGB officers made statements indicating decisive government actions were missing in this respect.
Question also arises as to how young women and children are in the migrants’ stream. Meanwhile reports from districts said many young are missing from villages who were earlier collected by agents to send to Malaysia. 
Reports said traffickers sell the migrants to Thai fishing companies and other employers. The fishing companies use them as slave workers without pay and basic human dignity. Women are put to work as housemaid and at brothels while young children are feared to be victims of organ transplantation in hospitals.
The tragedy has shown how unguarded our people are at home when local pirates lifted them on false promises and dump them at sea. Many tend to ask question now whether the government only exists for the rich and the powerful while the poor are at the mercy of pirates ruling the sea.
Reports said that the home ministry has a list of 266 local agents and their ring leaders who are involved in the human trafficking but there is no visible move to arrest them and destroy the syndicates. This is a serious accusation for the  government to answer it.


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Unified front of NE India’s rebel groups rattles Delhi

Shamsuddin Ahmed

After formation of a united front last month, the insurgent groups of Northeast India have become active causing worries to the government. The Front, a common platform of insurgents, was formed on 17 April.
Meanwhile, right jawans of paramilitary and armed forces were killed on May 3 and a joint patrol team of the forces was ambushed in Nagaland-Myanmar border on Sunday (May 17) triggering exchange of fire.

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Shamsuddin Ahmed

After formation of a united front last month, the insurgent groups of Northeast India have become active causing worries to the government. The Front, a common platform of insurgents, was formed on 17 April.
Meanwhile, right jawans of paramilitary and armed forces were killed on May 3 and a joint patrol team of the forces was ambushed in Nagaland-Myanmar border on Sunday (May 17) triggering exchange of fire.

Locals reported heavy movement of insurgents in battle gear causing tension among the residents. Paramilitary and armed forces have dug bunkers around their units, fully ready to fight with the insurgents.

Separatists formed united front
Reports reaching from across the Tripura border said about a dozen hardcore separatist groups meeting on April 17 formed a forum -United National Liberation Front of Western Southeast Asia (UNLFW) ­ for an effective campaign of independence for the Northeast.
A press release of UNLFW on May 4 said the objective of the coalition was a unified struggle for the liberation of ‘ancestral homes’. SS Khaplang of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was made chairman of UNLFW.
Sources say, the UNLFW’s declaration has culminated after a long sequence of events that began in early 2011 when the representatives of as many as twelve rebel groups from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya held their first meeting to decide upon a common goal. However, their objective to float the front by the end of the year failed to materialize as some leaders could not confirm their participation at the proposed meeting.
April 17 last was the fourth initiative that separatist groups from different states in the Northeast have undertaken to stitch a coalition. According to a top functionary from a Manipuri rebel group told Rajeev Bhattacharyya, a senior journalist of Guwahati that all the Manipuri groups­ the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak (PRK), the People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak-Progressive, Kangla Yawolkannalup and a faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party ­that have camps along the border with Myanmar, participated in the meetings that led to the formation of the UNLFW.
UNLF of Manipur, the largest underground outfit of the region had demanded that its chairman RK Meghen should be made chairman of the united forum. His selection was opposed by others as he is currently in jail in Guwahati, and would have been, they argued, ineffective as the chairman in such a scenario.

The UF’s strength in doubt
Manipuri groups have, for the time being withheld signing the declaration but extended moral support to the UNLFW. The leaders are hopeful the differences would soon be resolved and that efforts would be made to make the front broad-based with the participation of all like-minded outfits in the region aiming at independence from India. A committee has been formed by the four founding groups to draft a joint constitution and design a flag.
The birth of the UNLFW came soon after Khaplang’s decision to abrogate a 14-year-old ceasefire with the Indian government on 27 March. The ceasefire was signed in 2001 but there was hardly any progress towards a negotiated settlement though it was extended every year. Khaplang viewed that the ceasefire would not yield any result since the government was against negotiating on the demand of sovereignty. A few weeks ago, the leader also sent delegates from the NSCN-K to Naypyidaw, ­the capital of Myanmar­ seeking support to the unity move.
The Delhi government appeared to have been rattled and operations against the rebels in the region have been intensified. Observers say it remains to be seen if the front can actually sustain the campaign and take on the security forces. Of the four UNLFW founding groups, KLO is almost non-existent; ULFA has suffered erosion in its support base and cadre strength; the NSCN-K has been dealing with an internal strife; and the NDFB has also been weakened, although it still has the capacity to carry out strikes.
The formation of UNLFW, however, assumes significance. Indian intelligence officials tend to believe that China was involved with the UNLFW. They said this coalition could be used to further China’s objectives in Myanmar and also keep tabs on the Northeast India. It is also known that some leaders of some of the outfits have been living in China for quite some time and this development could not have taken place without the knowledge of the Chinese government.


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3-star hotels to get duty waiver

Shahabuddin Ahmad

For the last many years private investors who have developed hotels in various part of the country including Cox’s Bazar, Kuakata and also in cities were complaining   about their inability to meet bank liabilities     due to low occupancy, caused by political disturbance in the country. Many hoteliers urged   the Government agencies to reduce import tax on items required by them for establishment of hotels and other accommodation units to reduce burden on the owners from payment of heavy taxes and duties.

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Shahabuddin Ahmad

For the last many years private investors who have developed hotels in various part of the country including Cox’s Bazar, Kuakata and also in cities were complaining   about their inability to meet bank liabilities     due to low occupancy, caused by political disturbance in the country. Many hoteliers urged   the Government agencies to reduce import tax on items required by them for establishment of hotels and other accommodation units to reduce burden on the owners from payment of heavy taxes and duties.

It appears that the government has of late realized the need of the private sector. The Civil Aviation and tourism Ministry now has issued guidelines on identification of the international standard luxury hotels for providing tax rebate for import of capital machinery and other equipments to encourage setting up new international chain and luxury hotels in the country.

5% import duty for hotel industry
According to the Identi-fication and Certification of Standard Hotels Guidelines published on April 27, only three-star and above graded under-construction hotels will get duty waiver on imports.
Both local and franchise-based international chain hotels having at least 100 rooms will get the duty benefit to be provided by the National Board of Revenue, under which the entrepreneurs will be allowed to import machinery and equipments by paying only 5 per cent duty. The space of each room would have to be at least 26 square meters with air-conditioning and heating system, and hot and cool water facility. Sewerage treatment plant and modern fire protection system are mandatory for availing the duty benefit.
Two-hundred seated air conditioned conference centre, 50-seated meeting room, 150-seated banquet hall and 50-seated restaurant arrangement along with gymnasium, spa and other facilities in the hotels are also mandatory. Officials said that such duty waiver on newly-built luxury hotels would boost the local tourism industry along with generating employment. The ministry of civil Aviation and tourism also formed a six-member committee headed by the controller of the hotel and restaurant cell of the ministry to scrutinize the standard of the hotels and recommend the government for providing the benefit.
Under the proposed system hotels will enjoy the import facility only once at reduced rates and have to use the imported machinery and equipments for the hotel for which the application is made. The hotel authorities will have to submit the detailed description of facilities, lay-out plan and structural plan, tax related documents, projection about possible foreign currency and revenue earnings and job creation for availing the waiver. The ministry will certify if the hotels are standard or not based on the committee reports.

Precaution needed to prevent abuse
Professionals and stakeholders already in tourism business, however, say that the proposed facility by the government will be highly vulnerable to abuse and they cite an example: Government had allowed highly rebated importation on Yellow taxi cabs for Bangladesh in 1980s. But many of these taxicabs were used for private purposes and not as yellow cab taxis for public transportation in   the city.
Senior Government officials who were posted abroad, in some cases, imported cars in the name of yellow taxi cabs on their return and such transports did not run in the city as public transports. It is, therefore, suggested that government should take adequate precaution to stop such abuse of the imported equipments by hotel builders.


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4 US firms getting rich off Gulf conflict with Iran

They’re striking contracts with the Department of Defence to supply missiles, helicopters and fighter jets

Alex Kane
AlterNet

In mid-May, President Barack Obama hosted top officials from Gulf Arab states at Camp David, the idyllic presidential retreat in Maryland. The meeting was designed to assure Gulf Arab leaders that the U.S. still has their back, even though the Obama administration is hurtling full-speed ahead toward a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

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They’re striking contracts with the Department of Defence to supply missiles, helicopters and fighter jets

Alex Kane
AlterNet

In mid-May, President Barack Obama hosted top officials from Gulf Arab states at Camp David, the idyllic presidential retreat in Maryland. The meeting was designed to assure Gulf Arab leaders that the U.S. still has their back, even though the Obama administration is hurtling full-speed ahead toward a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

Many of the monarchs from the Gulf decided to snub Obama by not showing up for the retreat. Instead, they sent other top officials, a way of showing their displeasure at the impending nuclear deal with Iran, the state they have been battling over Middle East hegemony for years. Despite the snubs, the Obama administration announced at the summit that there will be more security assistance and expected weapons sales for Gulf Arab states as a way of ensuring their strategic position against Iran.

US selling arms to the Gulf
That promise of more arms is not surprising. In recent years, the Gulf States, flush with oil wealth, have bought massive amounts of American weapons. Since 2010, Gulf Arab states have increased their armaments purchases by 70 percent. Leading the pack is Saudi Arabia, which in 2014 became the world’s largest importer of American-made weapons. One out of every seven dollars spent on weapons in the world comes from the Saudis, according to the HIS’ Yearly Global Defence Trade Report.  The Obama administration has overseen the sale of over $64 billion in weapons and defense systems to Gulf nations.
In the past, weapons sales to Gulf Arab nations have been held up because of Israeli concerns over their “qualitative military edge,” the notion that Israel should maintain superior military capabilities over their Arab nations. But that reticence to sell weapons to states like Saudi Arabia has eased in recent years because Israel and the Gulf states share a common interest in boxing in Iran.
For the most part, arms sales are designed to beef up militaries in anticipation of any conflict with Iran. But in the past year, the Gulf states have flexed their muscles by joining the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, and by pounding Yemen with bombs, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. The flow of arms sales is further militarizing a region already rife with bloody conflict stretching from Syria to Yemen. The result is human misery.
But the Gulf States’ purchases are making one American industry very happy. U.S. arms companies are striking contracts with the Department of Defence to supply states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar with missiles, helicopters and fighter jets. Here’s a look at four U.S. arms companies getting rich off the Gulf States’ fear of Iran.

Firms thriving on human miseries
1. Boeing. This Illinois-based aerospace company makes aircraft and helicopters designed to be used in military conflict. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the six-nation consortium of Gulf States, have been frequent Boeing customers.
Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates announced it would be spending $618 million on two C-17s, a large military transport aircraft made by Boeing. This purchase was in addition to one made in 2009, when the company was awarded a contract to supply the United Arab Emirates with six C-17s. In 2010, Boeing made nearly $700 million by supplying Kuwait with a C-17.
In 2013, Boeing received part of a $10 billion contract to give Saudi Arabia and the UAE high-tech missiles that can be launched from airplanes over 135 miles from the target. Two years before that deal, Boeing was awarded a $29.4 billion contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 84 F-15 fighter jets and upgrade older aircrafts.
Boeing is also the creator of the Apache attack helicopters. The biggest weapons deal of 2014 was a $23 billion agreement with Qatar, in which Boeing will supply 24 Apache helicopters to the small nation. Other weapons firms were also involved in the agreement.
2. Raytheon. This company is best known for manufacturing missiles. Raytheon has won a number of contracts to supply Gulf States with high-tech missiles.
In 2013, Raytheon was given a $1 billion contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 15,000 anti-tank missiles. Middle East analysts saw the move by Saudi Arabia as connected to their support for Syrian rebels battling against the Assad regime. While it’s against U.S. law for American-made weapons to go to an unauthorized third party, Middle East observers said it’s possible the Saudis were shipping old stocks to the rebels and replenishing their own with U.S.-made weapons.

Business of deaths & destruction
Raytheon also struck gold in 2012 when it won a deal to supply the Saudis with a $600-million Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) system, a centralized decision-making system.
The Saudis are not the only ones handing over cash to Raytheon. The company was included in the massive $23 billion deal with Qatar in 2014. It is supplying the country with Patriot missiles—a defense missile that shoots down other missiles—valued at $1.7 billion. Raytheon also won a contract in 2008 to supply the UAE with Patriot missiles, which will net it $3.3 billion. And in 2013, Oman announced it would be giving Raytheon over $2 billion for a ground-based defense system designed to counter air attacks.
3. Lockheed Martin. This company is another major player in the U.S. weapons industry. In 2013, the company inked a deal with the UAE to build them a defence system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, meant to combat missile strikes. Lockheed nabbed $3.9 billion for the deal, which also included armaments for the U.S. military.
The company has had extensive dealings with Oman. In 2011, it inked a $600 million deal to supply the Gulf state with 12 fighter planes.
And like other companies, it has also profited from sales to Saudi Arabia. It won a $22 million deal in 2014 to give the Saudis specialized support for Apache helicopters. The deal includes deliveries of equipment for “long range precision engagement” and flight safety for the helicopters. In 2013, the company, alongside Northrop Grumman, received a $90 million contract to supply the Saudis with a radar system for the Apache helicopters the Saudis possess.
4. Sikorsky Aircraft. This subsidiary of United Technologies makes Black Hawk helicopters, another type of military helicopter. It has delivered the Black Hawks to Gulf Arab states. In August 2014, the company won a $30 million contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 12 Black Hawks. In 2011, Sikorsky Aircraft netted $270 million to upgrade the UAE’s supply of Black Hawk helicopters.
Earlier this year, Reuters reported that the company is looking to sell 400 helicopters to Middle Eastern countries over the next five to 10 years.
Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.


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No ‘normal relations until blockade ends’

Holiday Desk

Cuba and the US will exchange ambassadors on 29 May, but “the blockade has to be fully removed and Guantanamo should be returned,” before there can be normal relations, said President Raúl Castro in a recent meeting with reporters, according to a Cuban Embassy press release.

Full Story

Holiday Desk

Cuba and the US will exchange ambassadors on 29 May, but “the blockade has to be fully removed and Guantanamo should be returned,” before there can be normal relations, said President Raúl Castro in a recent meeting with reporters, according to a Cuban Embassy press release.

The Cuban leader confirmed that once the US removed Cuba from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, both governments would designate ambassadors. The 45-day waiting period for Cuba to be removed from the controversial list – which US President Barack Obama announced in April – ends May 29. A third round of talks between the two countries is due to talk place in Washington on Thursday 21 May.

End US blockade: French president
It may be recalled that French President François Hollande made history on 11 May by becoming the first French president to visit Cuba. During his one day trip he called for an end to the US blockade and had a surprise 50-minute meeting with Fidel Castro.
According to reports in the French media Hollande described the former Cuban president as having “a lot to say,” and demonstrating intellectual acuity and alertness. “I had before me a man who made history,” he said.


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