DHAKA: A special Bangladeshi court was due on Wednesday to begin hearing its first case against extremist leaders charged with atrocities during the country's bloody 1971 war of independence.
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal, which was set up last year to try people suspected of war crimes during the battle for liberation from Pakistan, will formally frame charges against Delwar Hossain Sayedee.
Sayedee, a senior official of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamic party, is accused of killing more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting, and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. "Today the court will frame charges against Sayedee," Zaid Al Malum, a state prosecutor, told AFP.
Bangladesh, which was called East Pakistan until 1971, has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth. The current government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, says up to three million people were killed in the war -- many murdered by Bangladeshi collaborators of the Pakistani occupying forces. Hasina is the daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The 1971 war began after tens of thousands of people were killed in the capital Dhaka when Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight, a brutal campaign intended to deter Bangladeshis from seeking independence. The killings and subsequent military campaign that allegedly included mass killings, rape and torture served to create a groundswell of public support for the pro-independence movement.
Sayedee has been held in detention along with four other war crime suspects from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the tribunal as a government "show trial".
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has said rules being used by the tribunal to prosecute war crime suspects fall short of international standards.