12:01 AM, May 04, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Convenient amnesia

Convenient amnesia

Shakhawat Liton and Chaitanya Chandra Halder

President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong on May 30, 1981. Two days later, General Manzur was murdered. Facts related to the planned killing of Manzur show how top military leaders at the time desperately tried to bury the truth behind the Zia killing and how it helped them seize power. Manzur was the unsuspecting victim of their duplicity, which has become evident from the depositions of witnesses and the accused and from some authoritative books on the killing.
All these years since June 1981, justice for Manzur and his family has remained elusive.


Former military dictator HM Ershad was apparently in amnesia in 1995 when the CID asked him some crucial questions about his activities before and during the gruesome murder of General Abul Manzur in 1981.
He conveniently failed to remember some of his significant activities during the turmoil centring on the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman and also on the murder of Manzur.
Ershad even failed to remember whether he had visited the Hilltop mess in Chittagong cantonment and had meals there on May 26, 1981, four days before the assassination of Zia at the Circuit House in Chittagong.
Asked by the Criminal Investigation Department, the former army chief could not remember whether he had any scheduled programme at Bangladesh Military Academy in Chittagong.
But the then commandant of the military academy had not forgotten Ershad's official programme at the academy.
Brigadier General Hannan Shah, who was commandant of the military academy in 1981, told the CID that Ershad was scheduled to visit the academy on May 26 to inspect training.
On directives from Ershad, Hannan said the army authorities had taken necessary preparations to this effect. The commandant had also waited for Ershad at the military academy.
Ershad visited Chittagong, but he did not visit the academy. Hannan was not notified about the cancellation of the army chief's scheduled programme at the academy.
According to Ershad's testimony before the CID, he had come to know from Brigadier General Mohsin, who was commander of 69 infantry brigade, that he had visited Chittagong cantonment and had taken food at the Hilltop mess.  
Ershad first had a conversation there with Major General Manzur, GOC of 24th Infantry Division, and Area Commander of Chittagong. He later had a one-to-one conversation with Lt Col Moti, said Hannan Shah, a former minister and now a member of the BNP national standing committee.
Asked by the CID, Ershad, however, could not remember whether he had any programme at the military academy and had meals at the Hilltop mess.
He, however, strongly denied having any talks with Lt Col Moti, an accused in the assassination of Zia.
Ershad, who is the prime accused in the Manzur murder case, said he could not remember whether then air force chief Sadar Uddin had come to his office on the morning of May 30, a few hours after the assassination of President Zia.
Sadar Uddin, a witness in the Manzur murder case, in his testimony to the CID,  said he was in Jessore and had flown to Dhaka and met army chief Ershad at his office at the army headquarters on May 30 morning.
Ershad also could not remember whether he had seen Brigadier General Abdul Latif at the army headquarters on May 30. He, however, said he later had come to know that Latif was on leave at that time and was in Dhaka.
In his testimony, Latif, a co-accused in the Manzur murder case, said he had met army chief Ershad at the army headquarters on the morning of May 30. Ershad was a little annoyed with him for staying in Dhaka and ordered him to immediately go to his work place Chittagong.
The testimony of CGS Nur Uddin, a witness in the Manzur murder case, has provided corroboration for Latif. According to Nur Uddin, Brig Latif had come to the office of the CGS on the morning of May 30 and army chief Ershad had also come there. Ershad had ordered Latif to go to Chittagong.
Latif also said Ershad had ordered him and Brigadier General Abdul Aziz to carry out the plan to kill Manzur.
Ershad, according to Latif's testimony, talked to him and Aziz when they were in Chittagong and instructed them to execute the plan.
Ershad denied having any talks with Aziz and Latif.
He claimed that he had received the news on the arrest of Manzur from CGS Nur Uddin. But he could not remember whether he was at the4 Bangabhaban or the army headquarters when he got the news.
"Then I had informed the [acting] president of the news [on arrest of Manzur by police.] The [acting] president ordered taking Manzur under army custody. On receiving the order, I talked to the CGS and asked him to take necessary steps to bring Manzur and his aides under army custody," claimed Ershad.
Ershad could not remember whether then IGP ABMG Kibria was present before the acting president. He denied having any argument with Kibria over the reward money announced by the acting president for the arrest of Manzur after he had left Chittagong cantonment.
The testimonies of former air chief Sadar Uddin and IGP Kibria, however, provide a narrative different from Ershad's one. According to the air chief and the IGP, Ershad was at a meeting with the acting president at the Bangabhaban on June 1, 1981.
During the meeting, the acting president received a phone call from IGP Kibria who had informed Sattar about the arrest of Manzur by police. Hearing the news of Manzur's arrest, Ershad had got excited and made a phone call to someone, informing him of the arrest and directing him to take Manzur under army custody and execute the plan, according to the testimonies of Sadar Uddin and Kibria.
Kibria has described how he had reacted sharply to Ershad's remarks over the reward money, though Ershad could not remember whether Kibria was present at the Bangabhaban on the evening of June 1, 1981.  
"Approximately, at 7:30 evening, I went to the office of the acting president and found CAS [chief of army staff] and other armed service officers sitting and talking to him. As I entered, Chief of Army Staff welcomed me with a broad smile and told me that I had secured the reward money declared for  apprehending Manzur," said Kibria.
"He [Ershad] also expressed his surprise that Manzur could be arrested without resistance, and unarmed.  I was annoyed at his remark and told him the reward money had a bad odour and he could keep it for himself. Police and public had done their duties in accordance with the law. Seeing my reaction, the acting president tried to pacify me by eulogising the police efforts in capturing the alleged offenders," Kibria told the CID.   
According to Ershad, there was no story behind the way the acting president had ordered taking Gen Manzur under army custody from Hathazari police station.
But the testimonies of then air chief, IGP and home minister Mostafizur Rahman have described how Ershad was desperate to force the acting president to order the police to hand over Manzur to army custody.
There was even an altercation between Ershad and IGP Kibria on the issue as the police boss had repeatedly declined to hand Manzur over to army custody.
In their testimonies a number of senior police officials have said the acting president under pressure from army chief Ershad ordered police to hand over Manzur to army custody.
Acting President Sattar had told Mostafizur Rahman that the army had taken control of Gen Manzur by putting pressure on him, Mostafiz told the CID.  
Ershad also claimed that he was not earlier aware of Zia's visit to Chittagong on May 29, 1981. Prior to the president's departure for Chittagong, Major General Sadikur Rahman, military secretary to the president, had informed him over the phone about the visit.
Again, it was Gen Sadikur Rahman who, as Ershad has claimed, informed him around 5:00 o'clock on the morning of May 30 that the president had been assassinated at the Circuit House in Chittagong.
"I first informed Cabinet Secretary Keramat Ali of the assassination. Then I went to Vice President Abdus Sattar, who was at ICU in CMH, and I informed him of the president's death. I also told him that from then on he was the president," claimed Ershad before the CID.



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