May 25, 2005

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Peace Remains Elusive in CHT

The Jumma people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts still face repression by the Bangladesh government
Untitled Document
On 7 June 2005, the United Peoples Democratic Forum (UPDF), a political party of indigenous Jumma peoples, will reportedly hold a protest rally at Khagrachari, Bangladesh against latest land grabbing by the Bangladesh government for military purposes. The government has already started its crackdown on the UPDF activists.

Over 7 years have elapsed since the signing of the so-called Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord between the government of Bangladesh and Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) on 2 December 1997. Yet, peace remains the most elusive in the CHTs – the homeland of indigenous Jumma peoples. Instead of implementing provisions of the so-called Peace Accord, Dhaka has been inexorably moving towards further destruction of a people – indigenous Jumma peoples. Another resistance against the destructive designs of the government of Bangladesh has been prevailing over by fratricidal killings between the Jana Samhati Samiti and its bête-noire, United Peoples Democratic Forum.

Increasing militarisation

The CHTs Accord provided for withdrawal of all non-permanent camps of the security forces. According to the JSS, so far only 35 out of 500 camps have been withdrawn. The government also established more new camps at Milachari under Bandarban district and at Ghagra in Rangamati district. The army had closed down the local primary school in Gha­gra to use it as accommodation while the camp was being established in July 2004. A Buddhist monastery in Barkal, Rangamati district, was also forcibly pulled down to make way for a camp for the Bangladesh Rifles. In a related development, there have been increasing reports of the presence of armed insurgent groups from neighbouring countries operating in the CHTs. It is alleged that the Bangladesh army have adopted a policy of publicizing the presence of these foreign insur­gent groups as a further justification for their continued and expanding presence. Approxi­mately one-third of the Bangladesh military is deployed there and the government reportedly spends an estimated US$125 million per year for the continued presence of the military in the region.

In a latest incident on 31 March 2005, the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari served acquisition notices to the indigenous Jumma landowners in respect of acquiring 45 acres of land in Babuchara under Dighinala Thana in Khagrachari district for the purpose of constructing a battalion headquarters’ office of the Bangladesh Rifles. At least 74 Jumma families in three villages– Jatna Dhan Karbari Para, Gobinda Karbari Para and Hengottya Karbari Para will be displaced. An additional one hundred families will have to ultimately vacate their lands once the construction of the camp compound is completed. Most of these Jummas were uprooted after the construction of the Kaptai Hydro Electric Project in 1960s. In 1986, all these families had to flee to Indian state of Tripura where they lived as refugees until the Chittagong Hill Tracts accord was signed in 1997.

The establishment of the proposed battalion headquarters’ office of the Bangladesh Rifles is nothing but a ploy to terrorize the Jummas and grab their land in the guise of public interest. The nearest border point from the proposed site is situated at a distance of 40 miles away in the north. Moreover, there is already an army camp adjacent to the proposed site of the proposed headquarters of the BDR.

The Bangladesh army has sought to establish new camps near Bandarban, which will lead to the displacement of 25,000 indige­nous peoples.

Continued implantation of plain settlers:

In addition to continuous trickling of plain settlers into the CHTs, the government of Bangladesh is also reportedly planning to implant another 65,000 plain settlers’ families in a vast area between Baghaihat and Majolong in Sajek Union under Rangamati Hill district. Military officials have been regularly visiting the area for the last two months. The security forces have reportedly been clearing jungles for a temporary helipad to enable the visit of senior military officers. The military has been engaged in construction of a road from Baghaihat to Sajek to facilitate the transport of the plain settlers.

The settlement of such a large number of Bengali settler families will have devastating effect on the indigenous peoples. With the transfer of half a million plain settlers, indigenous Jumma peoples have already been reduced to minority in their own land. The Pankua indigenous peoples, who profess Christianity, will be forcibly evicted from these areas.

The suppression of protests

On 23 May 2005, police reportedly raided the office of UPDF office at Swanirbhar Bazaar in Khagrachari district and arrested 16 of its members including its district coordinator Sachib Chakma, Pradipan Khisha, Ranjan Moni Chakma, Pulock Chakma, Ronnie Tripura, Kerington Chakma, Anil Bikash Chakma, Apu Chakma, Soumitra Chakma and Natun Kumar Chakma. Police also picked up Hill Women’s Federation President Sonali Chakma and General Secretary Antarika Chakma. They were holding a meeting to prepare their peaceful demonstration on 7 June 2005 in Khagrachari to protest the ongoing land-grabbing spree of the government of Bangladesh.

The UPDF in a press statement stated that the arrests were part of the government’s attempt to foil the peaceful rally on 7 June 2005.

In the midst of such destruction of a people, internecine conflict has once again prevailed over. The UPDF members alleged that members of the Jana Samhati Samiti on 22 May 2005 tore off UPDF’s posters announcing the proposed June 7th rally in Khagrachari town.

Continued arrest and detention

The members of the UPDF have been reportedly facing the repression from the government of Bangladesh. Hundreds of its activists have been arrested on fake charges by the police and military personnel to weaken their protests against the policies of the government of Bangladesh.

On 15 March 2005, Natun Kumar Chakma and 36 other UPDF members were arrested in Chittagong. They were detained for a day and freed later.

On 26 April 2005 Lieutenant Colonel Momin Khan, Commanding Officer of Lakshmichari zone under Khagrachari district, picked up two Pahari Chattra Parishad activists - Sushil Chakma and Kaladhan Chakma at Boroitali village in Bermachari union. Both were beaten up mercilessly and taken to Ghagra camp in Rangamati. Later, on 29 April 2005, they were released from Bannyachola army camp.

Common Jummas too face numerous repression. Since 23 April 2005, the military from Ghagra, Lakshmichari and Sindukchari camps have been reportedly carrying out massive operations in Lakshmichari, Kawkhali and Kudukchari areas. They are frequently raiding Jumma villages, beating and interrogating innocent villagers and arresting people on suspicion of being members of the UPDF.

Undoubtedly the survival of less than one million indigenous Jumma peoples depends on their unity in a country with virtual 160 million homogenous population. Yet, the Jana Samahati Samiti, the political party that signed the Accord and the party that holds power in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council has so far failed to take any visible measure or make any public appeal to sit for dialogue with the UPDF to stop the internecine conflict except calling for UPDF’s extinction or calling on UPDF to dissolve itself. Certainly, it cannot be considered "democractic" by any standard but it certainly shows the level of democratic tolerance in the CHTs!

Sense and sanity in the serene hills of the CHTs have been replaced by modern day cannibalism. Unless the internecine conflict can be brought to an end, little intervention can be made by international community to save the indigenous Jumma peoples. For the indigenous Jumma peoples - the internecine conflict that has claimed about 500 lives and maimed equal numbers in addition to daily kidnapping and extortion, has been more agonising than two decades of conflict with the Bangladesh government.

Source: ACHR Review