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Panel: sabotage, negligence in Bangladesh factory fire

A committee appointed by the government in Bangladesh has said a deadly factory fire last month appeared to be an act of sabotage. The panel found the factory's management ultimately responsible, owing to "negligence."

The investigative panel said on Monday that the blaze at a textile factory close to the capital Dhaka had the hallmarks of sabotage, though it did not identify any possible culprit. The November 24 blaze at the Tazreen Fashions factory killed 112 people after breaking out on the ground floor of the warehouse.

"The incident appears to be an act of sabotage, but the owner's negligence had caused tragic deaths of the factory workers," Mainuddin Khandaker said after presenting the four-man team's report to the government.

Khandaker said the government should bring charges against owner Delawar Hossain for "gross negligence and unpardonable crime," along with nine other mid-level managers at the site.

The report's author said these ten recommended suspects "barred the workers from leaving the burning factory."

Police arrested three mid-level managers in December, alleging that they padlocked the factory when the fire broke out and ordered staff back to their posts, supposedly saying the fire alarm was a false one.

Many of the staff died from the effects of smoke inhalation, some jumped from upper levels of the nine-storey building. News agency AFP reported that Bangladeshi firefighters said all three factory fire exits converged on the ground floor, the source of the fire. The modern construction was built in 2009.

The Tazreen factory is situated in the Ashulia industrial district, some 20 kilometers north-west of Dhaka. The site used to make clothing for a number of leading global retailers, including Wal Mart and Disney.

The textile industry accounts for nearly four-fifths of all Bangladesh's exports, with garment factories employing roughly 40 percent of the national workforce. Around 700 people have died in fires in Bangladeshi garment factories since 2006.

msh/jr (AFP, AP, dpa)