Dec 01, 2004

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Discontent still brews on slack implementation

Seven years after the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) peace accord on December 2, 1997, discontent persists in the region as the government did not fully implement the accord
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Seven years after the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) peace accord on December 2, 1997, discontent persists in the region as the government did not fully implement the accord.

The accord had ended two decades of bush war and sought to make the indigenous people happy by involving them in the local administration, but their participation in the decision-making process still remains negligible.

The hills people are unhappy that army presence in the region continued despite the peace accord.

The accord virtually divided the indigenous people into two groups-- one opposing it and the other still hoping it will be implemented in full. Over 500 people belonging to the two groups were killed and more than 1,000 injured in clashes between them. Moreover about 1,000 people of the two groups were kidnapped.

The CHT region also witnesses a rise of extortion by local gangs backed by both the feuding groups.

Bangla-speaking people who settled in the region have added another dimension to the discontent by launching a movement against the peace accord. The accord has made them second class citizens, they alleged.

The settlers also oppose the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PC JSS) that signed the accord with the previous Awami League (AL) government.

Sama Odhikar Andolon, a platform of the Bangla-speaking people reportedly backed by a quarter in the government, is carrying out an agitation demanding cancellation of the accord.

Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Shantu Larma, who signed the agreement on behalf of the PCJSS, says that fundamental clauses of the accord are still to be implemented.

"The future of the CHT depends on how the government views the accord. The situation is worsening day by day as the government shows no intention to fully implement it," Shantu Larma, also chairman of the CHT Regional Council, told The Daily Star yesterday evening.

Sources said although the peace accord led to formation of the CHT Regional Council and the Ministry of CHT Affairs, the council lacks powers as envisaged in the accord.

Initially, the AL government implemented many clauses of the accord but the change of government slowed the process of implementation. The AL also does not pressurise the government to implement it.

When the accord was signed, the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami had vehemently opposed it, terming it a serious threat to Bangladesh's independence and sovereignty.

After coming to power, the BNP however did not cancel the accord under donor pressure. The government rather assured the PCJSS of implementing it. But moved slowly and so far it has only appointed chairman of the Taskforce for Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and increased the tenure of the land commission by three years from 2003.

People of the hill districts believe that partial implementation of the accord has brought no good to them.

The accord has pitted the PCJSS against the United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), an anti-accord outfit of the indigenous people.

Now the PCJSS is preparing to launch an agitation demanding an end to the problem of settlers, withdrawal of army and introduction of primary education in mother tongue as guaranteed in the accord.

The PCJSS will also hammer on the appointment of an indigenous person as a full minister of the CHT affairs ministry and proper functioning of CHT land commission. The Taskforce for Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees should also be activated and a voters' list of permanent residents of the CHT should be prepared, it demands.

The other demands include election to the regional council and Hill District Councils and appointment of an indigenous person as head of the CHT Development Board.

Source: The Daily Star