Friends of freedom honoured
Expressing its deep debt of gratitude, the country yesterday honoured individuals and organisations from across the world for their wholehearted support to its liberation in 1971.
President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina conferred the awards on the nation's foreign friends at a special ceremony at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.
The state accolades, titled “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” and “Friends of Liberation War Honour”, went to 83 -- 75 individuals, six organisations, Mitra Bahini (allied forces) and the people of India.
Recalling the recipients' contributions to our independence war, the president said, “Their valuable inspiration and support gave us impetus for achieving victory.”
Hasina said, “They gave us all sorts of help available -- food, shelter, medicine, and even military training. Most importantly, they gave greater voice to our legitimate cause, facilitated our access to global media, mobilised public opinion and financial support.
“Their moral and logistics support had been a constant source of inspiration for our valiant freedom fighters.”
This was the second phase of presenting awards to foreign nationals and organisations.
Earlier on July 25 last year, “Bangladesh Freedom Honour” was posthumously conferred on former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.
At yesterday's ceremony, eight heads of state and government were awarded the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” and the others “Friends of Liberation War Honour.”
Of the eight, only Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav is alive. The others are Third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, former Soviet presidents Leonid IIyich Brezhnev and Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny, ex-Soviet prime minister Alexei Nikolaevich Kosygin, former Yugoslav president Marshal Josip Broz Tito, ex-UK prime minister Sir Edward Richard George Heath and former Nepalese prime minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala.
The organisations that received awards are the BBC, Akashbani (All India Radio), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Oxfam and Kolkata University Shahayak Samiti.
The award consists of a gold-plated silver metallic plaque bearing a replica of the National Memorial and a citation on a silk cloth.
Bangalees received support from these foreign friends at a time when they stood up against genocide and other atrocities by the Pakistan occupation forces and their collaborators.
The nine-month war eventually led to the emergence of a sovereign Bangladesh.
The ceremony yesterday was a unique experience for many who travelled to Bangladesh for the first time to receive the awards on behalf of the recipients.
The awardees thanked the Bangladesh government for honouring them.
Hari Kumar Shrestha, Nepalese ambassador in Dhaka, was the first to receive the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” from Zillur Rahman on behalf of his country's President Dr Ram Baran Yadav.
Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji, chairman of the Royal Privy Council, took the award on behalf of Third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorjio Wangchuck.
Alexander A Nikolaev, Russian ambassador in Dhaka, received three awards on behalf of two former presidents and a prime minister.
Aleksandar Broz, son of former Yugoslavia president Marshal Tito, received the award on behalf of his father. The EHF trustee received the award for ex-British prime minister Edward Richard George Heath.
The son of former Nepalese prime minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala took the award for his father.
Pankaj Saran, the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, received the “Friends of Liberation War Honour” award for the people of India, while Indian State Minister for Defence MM Pallam Raju took the award as a Mitra Bahini representative.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma received the award for his late mother Rawshan Ara Begum Sangma.
Director General of All India Radio Leeladhar Mandloi received the award for Akashbani.
The ceremony started with the screening of a documentary on the foreign friends after the prime minister had reached the venue around 10:00am.
Cabinet Division Secretary Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan introduced the foreign friends to the audience and read out a citation describing their role during the Liberation War.
Lt Gen Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob of India gave a salute to the audience after receiving the award. He then chanted “Joy Bangla” and the audience reciprocated with an even louder chant.
Speaking on behalf of the recipients, former British Labour MP Michael Barnes said they were greatly honoured at the Bangladesh government's invitation.
“We accept the honour. Long live Bangladesh. Joy Bangla.”
A list of 132 foreign friends was made but the government finally invited 110, of which, 83 have attended or sent representatives to receive the awards.
The government has so far prepared a list of 568 foreign friends from all over the world. They include 257 Indians, 88 Americans, 41 Pakistanis, 39 Britons, nine Russians, 18 Nepalese, 16 French and 18 Japanese.
At the function, the prime minister said the government would continue to honour foreign friends.
A foreign ministry source said lawmakers and leaders of most political parties, except Jamaat-e-Islami, were invited to the ceremony. No BNP leader was seen at the programme.
Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain and Communist Party of Bangladesh General Secretary Mujahedul Islam Selim, among others, attended the function.