Chittagong Hill Tracts: CHT Comimission Submits Report on Erupted Violence
Below is an article published by bdnews24 :
The report, sent to the prime minister, mentions the commission's concern over the 'tense situation' in Baghaihat-Gangarammukh area of Rangamati since the violent arson in April 2008 and the repetition of the incident on February, 2010.
It also states that the commission was worried over the violation of human rights and quality of governance in CHT, which is why it sent an investigation team to the region.
The report, undersigned by CHTC co-chairpersons Eric Avebury, Sultana Kamal and Ida Nicolaise, says that the team received 'contradictory accounts' of the arson attacks on Feb 19, which resulted in the burning down of 434 tribal and 29 Bengali settlers homesteads.
The probe team had visited the sites alongside Baghaihat – Gangarammukh road where tribal homesteads, a medical centre and a Buddhist temple were completely gutted.
A large number of tribal residents of the area claimed that the arson was carried out by mobs of Bengali settlers carrying kerosene and petrol. The mob was also armed with sharp weapons and backed by army troops.
Many reported the police guarding their settlement asking them to flee as they would not be able to resist the settlers and army.
However, the military told the probe body that their actions were only in self-defense as they were attacked by a group of tribal miscreants shielded by their women.
They also said that the miscreants were themselves responsible for the arson.
A number of Bengali-settlers, and civil and military officials claimed to the probe team that the tribal set fire to their own homesteads.
However, they could not put forward any convincing motive for this tribal action.
Civil officials also reasoned that the alleged arson attacks during the day time by tribal people could not be stopped as the police could not be mobilized as fast as the arsonists burned down a bridge.
However, on-site visit by the probe revealed that many of the burnt down settlements were only 5-10 minutes drive from the Baghaihat military garrison.
The report also stated that the Feb 20 incident is nothing new and only another addition to a long list of such incidents.
It also stated that the tribal settlements in the Kassalong reserve forest were established a long-time back by tribal people evicted from their original lands in the counter-insurgency period.
However, the construction of a metal road from Baghaihat to the remote Sajek valley by army engineers in recent years fueled the conflict.
The apprehension further heightened with the increased inflow of Bengali settlers during the military-backed caretaker government when the army could act more freely.
Tensions flared due to incidents of land-grabbing, culminating into the Apr 20, 2008 arson attack by Bengali-settlers with military backing that led to 70 tribal residences being burnt to the ground.
The report also states that tribal people have been facing a lot of illegal toll collection and forced unloading of their goods on the way to the Baghaihat bazaar for the interests of Bengali-settlers in recent times.
As a result, they have boycotted the bazaar in protest against the intimidations and demanding withdrawal of settlers.
The probe also expressed concern that the conflict could lead to further inter-ethnic violence in the area and urged the administration to deal with the issues more reasonably.
The CHTC report stated that the tribal youths took out a demonstration condemning the Baghaihat violence in Khagrachhari on Feb 23.
It also claims that the demonstrators caused minor damage to shops and property. However, they were chased and attacked by Bengali settlers. The ensuing clash between the two groups resulted in the torching of Bengali and tribal homesteads and death of one settler.
However, an overwhelming number of tribal homesteads were burnt.
The report also stated that the probe was again faced with contradictory accounts of the actual incident.
Local journalists and media personnel testified that mobs of Bengali settlers torched the tribal homesteads in the presence of the police. However, the law enforcers did nothing to stop the actions.
They also claimed that a number of journalists were attacked by the Bengali settlers and sustained damages to their equipment.
The report also points to the close proximity of an armed police battalion camp and a security post near Shatbhaipara, where 41 residences of mostly tribal people were burnt down. It also pointed to the lack of action by the law enforcers.
It also questioned the failure of the district administration and military command to stop the mob for a number of hours.
The report also went on to state that the violence continued despite the imposition of section 144, proving the failure of the authority.
The probe report also mentioned of their visit to Khagrachhari's Shantiniketan area where settlers alleged arson of their homes by tribal people on Feb 23. A settler named Anwar Hossain was killed and another went missing.
One of Hossain's female relatives alleged that he was killed by tribal people when he tried to douse the fire at one of the settler's home.
However, the tribal people alleged that Hossain was part of the settlers responsible for the arsons and that he was killed in their attempt to save their homes.
The probe also states that they were informed by various sources, both settler and tribal, that the violence targeted to intimidate people and force them to leave their land and homesteads.
It also commented that if this was the case then the tribal people are more prone to land-grabbing because of their weaker state.
APPREHENSION OVER LAND COMMISSION
The report states that most observers agree that the regional clashes are fuelled by land disputes. It also says that the current government has reactivated the land commission by appointing a retired judge as its chairman in line with the CHT accord.
However, it also points out that the government attempt to date ends with this step as it has yet taken no step to amend flaws of the 2001 Act that governs the commission, despite protests by key tribal leaders.
It also points out that the chairman is showing very little interest to gain cooperation of tribal members of the commission, including the regional council and three circle chiefs.
Instead it has called for submission of complaints by affected parties without holding the cadastral survey, which is mandatory.
As a result, tribal people, along with their major social and political organizations, have boycotted the commission's controversial step.
It also states that the boycott has resulted in submission of claims by mostly Bengali settlers, who typically occupy tribal land, leading to chances of large scale loss of land rights by tribal people, which contradicts the intended objectives of the commission in the first place.
The probe report has made several recommendations to the government.
The CHTC urges immediate actions from the government and concerned parties to start a high-level independent probe into the February 2010 arson and killings as well as taking steps against those responsible. It also asks for scrutiny of allegations of the incidents occurring with law enforcers present.
It also urged the government to ensure security and proper rehabilitation (including compensation) of the affected people.
The recommendations also include ensuring 'free speech' for all, including the victims and witnesses of these violence and urged prevention of intimidation and suppression of the tribal peoples.
At the same time, the probe recommended resolution of the issues that forced to the tribal people to boycott trading in Baghaihat Bazaar so that they come back to the market on their own.
It also asked the closure of the Bengali's settling along the Baghaihat – Sajek road using the indirect support of military and civil authorities .
CHTC probe also recommended immediate amendment of the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001in line with the provision of the peace accord and recommendations of the regional council. It also urged that the commission takes all further decisions after agreeing with tribal members first.
It also feels that withdrawal of the temporary military camps is required in phases, keeping the terms of the CHT peace accord, to restore normalcy in the region. It reasons that the withdrawal will reduce tensions resulting out of undue military control.