02/05/2010, 00.00
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Dhaka unveils ten-year modernisation plan for armed forces

by William Gomes
The government plans to spend almost half a billion dollar to modernise its army, navy and air force. Segments of public opinion criticise the choice and want more money for health care and transport. Half of all Bangladeshis live below the poverty line.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The Government of Bangladesh has unveiled a ten-year plan to upgrade the country’s armed forces (army, navy and air force), including new weapons system and armoured vehicles. Planning Minister Air vice Marshal (retd) AK Khandker, who is also in charge of the Defence Ministry, made the announcement yesterday in Dhaka. The modernisation programme comes with a price tag of 338 billion taka (almost US$ 490 million), this in one of the poorest countries in the world, where half of the population lives below the poverty line.

The minister said the money would buy tanks, armoured vehicles, and helicopters, as well as double domestic ordinance production. Barracks and weapons facilities will also be improved. Two maritime patrol aircraft will be purchased and five patrol crafts will be locally built at the shipyard in Khulna, the country’s third largest city.

The plan includes modernising the country’s air defence system with a new fighter squadron, air-to-air missiles, a surface-to-air missile system, air defence radar and two helicopters.

Bangladesh’s military modernisation is part of a broader development plan based on the expectation that by 2017 its economy will reach a 10 per cent annual growth.

At the same time, the government wants to tackle poverty and corruption.

However, the plan to invest so heavily in the military has come in for sharp criticism. In the 2008-09 fiscal year, defence spending ranked eighth in terms of spending at about  6.4 per cent, higher than Transport and Communications (6.1 per cent%), Health (5.9 per cent) and Public Order and Security (5.6 per cent).

Bangladesh has a population of 143 million. It is ranked 140th on the human development scale.

In 2007, it was estimated that only 3.2 Bangladeshi in a thousand had access to internet. Illiteracy stood at 59 per cent. In addition, the annual per capita revenue was around US$ 470.

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