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Cablegate: Bangladesh: Cyclone Recovery and Elections Highlighted

VZCZCXRO2575
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #0128/01 0281122
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281122Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6097
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0449
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 1130
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9508
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8287
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 2010
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 8381
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0154
RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA 1471
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0525

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 000128

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SA/PB AND H, CINDY CHANG

E.O. 12356: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAID ECON BG
SUBJECT: BANGLADESH: CYCLONE RECOVERY AND ELECTIONS HIGHLIGHTED
DURING STAFFDEL GROVE VISIT

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Cyclone reconstruction and political dialogue in
Bangladesh were core themes of a visiting Senate State Foreign
Operations Subcommittee staff delegation led by Paul Grove January
16-18. In meetings with the StaffDel, Government of Bangladesh
(GOB) representatives and non-governmental organization (NGO)
partners emphasized the country's long-term rehabilitation needs -
including food needs - as Bangladesh recovers from the devastation
caused by Cyclone Sidr. The StaffDel highlighted to Bangladeshi
interlocutors the importance of a political dialogue among all
interested parties as key to progressing toward national elections
in Bangladesh by the end of 2008. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Paul Grove, Michele Wymer and Nikole Manatt of the Senate
Appropriations' Sub-Committee on State, Foreign Operations and
Related Programs visited Bangladesh January 16-18. In addition to
meeting with GOB officials, they visited USG projects aimed at
combating HIV/AIDS, trafficking-in-persons, extremism and
terrorism.

RECOVERY FROM CYCLONE SIDR
--------------------------

3. (SBU) GOB officials, at a meeting hosted by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and at a dinner hosted by the Charg d'Affaires
a.i., highlighted Bangladesh's continued need for assistance in
recovering from Cyclone Sidr. Foreign Secretary Md. Touhid Hossain
told the StaffDel crop destruction caused by the cyclone meant that
Bangladesh is facing a 1.4 million metric ton food shortfall. He
said the country would need international food support in the coming
four to five months until the next rice crop is harvested. Over the
long-term, the Foreign Secretary reported that Bangladesh was
looking for assistance in rebuilding homes, schools and cyclone
shelters, as well as infrastructure like roads and embankments.

4. (SBU) A GOB official key to the implementation of USG assistance
programs in Bangladesh echoed the Foreign Secretary's comments. Md.
Aminul Islam Bhuiyan, Secretary of the Economic Relations Department
of the Ministry of Finance, said infrastructure repairs in
cyclone-hit areas were crucial to helping restore the livelihoods of
millions of Bangladeshis. For example, strengthened embankments
could help protect lucrative shrimp and fish ponds from being washed
away by future flooding and cyclones. One international donor said
that while Bangladesh is not facing famine as a result of Cyclone
Sidr, food shortages and high food prices put additional pressure on
a population that already suffers from malnutrition and stunting.

5. (SBU) In conjunction with cyclone relief, the Foreign Secretary
told the StaffDel the GOB is keenly interested in applying for
additional debt concessions through the U.S. Tropical Forest
Conservation Act (TFCA). The GOB would like to apply more of the
debt it owes the United States to nature conservancy through TFCA.
The Foreign Secretary pointed out that the brunt of Cyclone Sidr was
borne by the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to a
huge mangrove forest. Through TFCA, the GOB could use funds owed
the United States to help restore the Sundarbans.

DIALOGUE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL OUTCOMES
---------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) International NGOs (INGOs) like the International
Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI),
and The Asia Foundation (TAF) outlined for the StaffDel some of the
challenges Bangladesh faces politically as it prepares for national
elections by the end of 2008. Chief among the requirements
identified for successful elections is the ability of political
parties to meet internally and to engage in substantive dialogue
with Bangladesh's caretaker government. All the INGOs agreed that
the political parties must reform and be based on a platform of
issues rather than a personality driven leadership. However,
reforms could only take place if parties were free to hold meetings
and were invited to meet with the caretaker government to discuss
political transition.

7. (SBU) In all its meetings with GOB officials, the StaffDel
stressed the importance of dialogue between the political parties
and the government and the importance of completely lifting the ban
on political activity. Only by taking these steps can the caretaker
government hope to solidify the support of political parties for the
elections and a transition to the next, elected government. GOB
officials like the Foreign Secretary pointed to recent comments made

DHAKA 00000128 002 OF 002


by Bangladesh's Chief Adviser that a political dialogue is planned
and that the caretaker government remains committed to its election
roadmap. The StaffDel noted that the U.S. Congress, as well as the
executive branch, would be following closely political developments
in Bangladesh throughout 2008.

USG ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS WARMLY RECEIVED IN BANGLADESH
--- ---------- -------- ------ -------- -- ----------

8. (U) In visits by and meetings with the StaffDel, recipients of
USG assistance reported on the value of USG programs. For example,
the StaffDel met with several Imams, who have received training on a
variety of development issues through the USAID-funded Leaders of
Influence (LOI) program. The Imams told the StaffDel they had
learned much about economic development, health, education and
disaster mitigation through the LOI program. The Imams said they
applied the lessons they learned to their interaction with followers
at their mosques and students at their madrassas. Several of the
Imams reported that they used information from the LOI program in
their Friday sermons. The Imams were unanimous in their desire for
more interaction with the United States.

9. (U) The StaffDel also visited a USG-supported shelter home for
victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. The shelter
provides health care, legal aid, psychological-social counseling,
and training in livelihood options to trafficking and domestic
violence survivors under a USAID grant managed by the International
Organization for Migration (IOM). The NGO that manages the shelter
and IOM staff briefed the StaffDel on the severity of these issues
in Bangladesh and how USG support has been critical to involving the
Government in addressing human trafficking from Bangladesh. The
Government and NGOs now work much more closely together in
preventing human trafficking and in providing adequate care for
trafficking survivors.

10. (U) The StaffDel visited an injecting drug user rehabilitation
center in downtown Dhaka. Members of the StaffDel visited with 20
women who had entered the center to change their lives and reject
drug use and prostitution. Through this USAID-funded program, women
complete a three-month rehabilitation program, which includes
mental/psycho-social, physical and spiritual components. The
program also provides some vocational training and eventual job
placement, often in factory jobs that are highly coveted in this
impoverished nation.

11. (U) The StaffDel met with alumni of the ECA-funded Study of
U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders and the Youth Exchange and Study
programs. Participants discussed their experiences in the United
States and how they are using their experiences on returning to
Bangladesh. Alumni from both programs told the StaffDel that their
views of the U.S. and the world in general changed as a result of
these programs. Several students noted they have become much more
civic-minded as a result. The alumni also noted that they maintain
close contacts with other alumni as well as their host families in
the U.S. using email and Internet social networking sites such as
MySpace and Facebook.

12. (SBU) COMMENT: Two key priorities for Bangladesh - recovery
from Cyclone Sidr and progress toward elections by the end of the
year - were echoed in many of the StaffDel's meetings. As part of
longer term rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in response to
the cyclone, Embassy personnel told the StaffDel the Mission plans
to continue the model of Diplomacy-Defense-Development working
together, a model that was successful during the immediate response
after the cyclone hit on November 15.
The StaffDel was briefed on the inter-agency teams that are
currently deployed to the cyclone affected areas to conduct a
month-long assessment and to deliver immediate assistance where
appropriate through quick impact projects. Ongoing military
engagement programs, including International Military Education and
Training (IMET), demonstrated during the immediate response phase
the high degree of interoperability between U.S. and Bangladeshi
forces. For example, the Bangladeshi liaison officers embarked on
the Kearsarge and Tarawa were all graduates of U.S. professional
military education through IMET.

13. (U) Paul Grove cleared this cable.

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