Aug 09, 2006

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Many Hill People Not Enrolled in the Voter List

"Even though the permanent residents are supposed to be enrolled in the voter list, the real CHT people are being left out in the list which is in violation of the peace treaty," said Larma, the Chairman of CHT Regional Council
Thousands of 'outsiders' have been enrolled in the voter list while permanent residents of the three Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) districts are left out, Chairman of CHT Regional Council Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) said on 8 August.

"At least 30,000 Rohingya refugees have been enrolled in the voter list," Larma said in a press conference yesterday organised by Bangladesh Adibashi Forum [Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum] at the National Press Club ahead of the World Indigenous Day on August 9.

"Even though the permanent residents are supposed to be enrolled in the voter list, the real CHT people are being left out in the list which is in violation of the peace treaty," Larma, also the president of the forum said.

He demanded the locals should prepare the voter list in CHT, Larma while reading out a paper on the occasion said.

Protesting the ongoing preparation of the voter list, he said many indigenous people are yet to be included in the list even though many army, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and police personnel posted in the region have become voters.

"If these people are posted at other places during the elections, there will be room for vote-fraud," he said.

He said many indigenous people cannot even go near the polling centres due to security concerns. "We fear indigenous people will not be allowed to cast their votes freely," he expressed his concerns.

Informing about many indigenous people who are being ousted from their own lands, Larma alleged outsiders are being given plots of land to settle there and create imbalance in population ratio. This is intended for political gains.

Larma said CHT Regional Council had submitted drafts of the electoral rules and voter list to the previous Awami League government but those are yet to be finalised.

Larma, highly critical of the present and previous governments for not implementing the CHT peace treaty, alleged that fresh army camps are being set up in the CHT districts ousting the indigenous people, even though according to the treaty, army were supposed to be withdrawn in phases.

The army is still ruling the region in the name of 'Operation Development', he alleged, citing incidents of oppression in CHT.

He put forward an 11-point demand including ensuring constitutional rights to indigenous people, rights on land and natural resources, proper implementation of the CHT peace treaty and an end to the incursions of settlers.

The demands also included cancellation of the Echo Park on the indigenous peoples' lands in Madhupur and to form a separate ministry and separate land commission for the region.

The UN has taken 'Indigenous people's right to territory, land and natural resources' as the theme for this year's World Indigenous Day, which will be celebrated in the country.

The forum will organise a gathering and a rally at Central Shaheed Minar at 10:00am on August 9 and present a display of cultural heritage of indigenous people at noon. It will also arrange a discussion meeting and cultural programmes at the Engineers' Institute at 4:00pm.

General Secretary of the forum Sanjib Drong, Khasia leader Andrew Solomar, Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) leaders Laxmiprashad Chakma and Shaktipada Tripura, former chairperson of Hills Women Federation Choitali Tripura were present at the conference.