With one police jeep in front and another behind, three buses carried 96 arms makers and dealers along with robbers to Kalarmarchhara Union Parishad ground in Maheshkhali so that they surrender before Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan.
They were brought from the “safe house” in Cox’s Bazar Police Lines around 10:30am yesterday to attend the formal surrender ceremony.
Under heavy police protection, the 96 arms dealers, makers, and robbers walked to their seats on the carpeted ground near the stage, which was set for the ceremony.
It started around 11:15am with recitation from the Holy Quran.
The home minister and Inspector General of Police Mohammad Javed Patwary received them with flowers in front of thousands of locals who came to watch the surrender.
Arms makers and dealers, and robbers from 12 gangs, including notorious firearms maker Zafar Alam, surrendered. They laid down 155 locally-made firearms, 28 rounds of bullets and 255 cartridges before the law enforcers in presence of the home minister and the IGP.
Superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar ABM Masud Hossain first gave a welcome speech, after which ringleaders of two gangs were called up on the stage to express their feelings.
“I regret my past activities. Those of us who surrendered today want your blessings so that we can live a better life,” said Sirajuddoullah, ringleader of Siraj Bahini.
After Siraj, Nurul Amin said he was once a robber and surrendered at a programme earlier in October last year, along with 42 other robbers.
“I am now dreaming of leading a life like others in the society. I want to start a business of my own,” he added.
The robbers were given Tk 50,000 each as donation as part of the government’s initiative to bring them back to normal life.
Ziaur Rahman Zia of Zia Bahini, Ayub Ali of Ayub Bahini, Jahangir Alam of Jahangir Bahini, Mohammad Ali of Mahmudullah Bahini, Mujibur Rahman Prakash of Mujib Bahini, and Kalu Prakash of Kalu Bahini, also surrendered along with 15 to 20 members of each gang.
Police put on display the arms and ammunition that were handed over by the arms dealers and robbers.
Those who surrendered would “not receive any general amnesty”, but all the 96 were taken to a Maheshkhali Senior Judicial magistrate court around 2:00pm after they were shown arrested in a case under the Arms Act, officials said. From there, they were sent to Cox’s Bazar district jail.
However, they would be given legal aid, police sources said.
Addressing the function, Asaduzzaman Khan said all cases, except those for rape and killing, against those who surrendered will be withdrawn and necessary assistance will be given from the government to help them return to a normal life.
Warning that stern actions will be taken against the robbers who did not surrender, the minister urged them to do so as soon as possible.
“Lists with the identities of all people involved in piracy and criminal activities have already come to law enforcement agencies. Lists of their influential godfathers have also been made,” Asaduzzaman said, adding that none would be spared.
IGP Mohammad Javed Patwary said, “If policemen are even found to be involved in any crime, anyone can let us know by dialling 999. No criminals would be spared,” he warned.
Earlier, the arms dealers, makers, and robbers had been kept at the police safe house in the district police lines since November 8. They were accused in three to 16 cases each.
The criminals of Maheshkhali, Kutubdia, Chakaria and Pekua had been reigning supreme in the neighbourhood for years and had made murders, robberies, and abductions a common phenomenon in the upazila.
Last year, a journalist of a TV channel approached police and mediated the surrender of the 43 robbers who surrendered in October.
According to sources in law enforcement agencies, 30 among 43 of the robbers who surrendered last year are now on bail.
The government allowed the surrender of 102 yaba godfathers and dealers in Teknaf in February this year. None of them have gotten out on bail yet.
However, the surrender of the yaba godfathers this year brought little visible change in the drug trade in Cox’s Bazar where trade of the pills is still on.
The Daily Star ran a report in March this year about the gangs who manufacture arms in Maheshkhali.
At least six organised gangs had gun-making workshops on the island, sources from a law enforcement agency said.
Locals said the most notorious gang in Maheshkhali is Kodalia Bahini, led by Jinnat Ali. The gang has been active since 2001 and has around 40 to 50 cadres. The Kodalia Bahini has not yet surrendered.
Locals are unsure whether the surrender of the arms dealers, robbers and gangs would actually improve law and order.