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Bangladesh garment factory owners to face homicide charges over fire

Arrest warrants have been issued in Bangladesh for two owners and four employees of a garment factory where 111 workers died in a fire last year. The six fled after police filed homicide charges against them.

A Bangladesh court on Tuesday ordered arrest warrants for the two owners of the factory - Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter - and four of their employees on homicide charges over the fire, the worst such blaze in the country's history.

Police say the six have fled after

charges were laid earlier this month against 13 people

over the disaster. If they are not found, they could be tried in absentia. The other seven are in court or in custody.

The 13 accused are charged with arson, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and death by negligence, according to prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul

Hossain has also been charged with breaching construction rules by building unsafe and narrow staircases in the nine-story factory, situated in Savar, about 30 km (19 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka.

Police reports after the fire said victims of the

November 2012 fire

were either overcome by smoke or were forced to jump from windows on upper floors. Managers and security guards at the factory have also been blamed for sending workers back to their duties after the fire broke out on the ground floor.

All the accused could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Dire safety conditions

The fire underlined the

sometimes appalling safety conditions

under which Bangladheshi garment factory workers toil for mostly very low wages to make clothing often destined for major Western retailers.

The issue was thrown into yet higher relief by an even greater disaster in April of this year in which 1,135 people died when the

Rana Plaza garment factory on Dhaka's outskirts collapsed.

This is the first time authorities are trying to prosecute factory owners in the country's lucrative garment industry, which is a mainstay of Bangladesh's economy, accounting for up to 80 percent of exports.

More than 100 top Western retailers have signed up to new safety agreements to allow greater scrutiny of their operations since the Rana Plaza disaster, and the government has introduced factory inspections and raised minimum wages by 76 percent.

Activists, however, say that even the new minimum wage of $68 (49 euros) a month means that Bangladeshi garment workers are still among the lowest-paid in the world.

tj/msh (AFP, AP)

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