May 06, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Arson Premeditated

Sample ImageAn independent citizens group has revealed that Bengalee settlers were responsible for the looting and arson of indigenous Chittgong Hill Tracts peoples’ homes.

Below is an article published by The Daily Star:

The April 20 [2008] arson attack on villages of indigenous communities in Baghaichhari of Rangamati was well orchestrated and pre-planned, and the government has yet to take any action against the perpetrators, an independent citizens' group said.

They also said the victims are still living under the open sky.

The citizens' group comprising different professionals including human rights workers, university teachers, lawyers, and journalists raised questions yesterday at a news conference following a visit to the spot, wondering who could have dared to set fire to the houses next to an army camp.

"We think the reason behind the arson attack was not only the conflict between the indigenous communities and Bangalee settlers, the main motive was to drive away the indigenous people from the area to make way for new Bangalee settlements," said Robayet Ferdous, a teacher of mass communications and journalism at Dhaka University, while reading out a written statement at the conference.

At the conference, the citizens' group said in Sajek they visited eight villages, Nursery Para, Dane Bhaibachhara, Bame Bhaibachhara, Purbopara, Balughatpara, Retkaba, MSF Para, and Gangarammukh, where most of the houses that were gutted belonged to indigenous people while only a few burnt houses belonged to Bangalee settlers, and the government has yet to take an account of the damage.

They said, tension started to mount in Sajek since the Bangalee settlers started building new houses in Chakma villages just a couple of months ago. Quoting local indigenous people, the written statement said the attackers, who were speaking Bangla, first looted all furniture and other valuables in the houses and then set fire to them.

Some Bangalee settlers in Gangarammukh village even did not flinch to destroy a Buddhist temple, Bonobihar Kuthir, to build new houses for themselves, the news conference alleged.

Some Bangalee settlers there have been threatening local indigenous residents with arson attacks on their houses, if they do not go on an exodus into the forest, the citizens' group said quoting local indigenous residents.

They also said the Bangalee settlers there are very poor and depend on government provided rations.

"In Bhaibachhara village we saw a house in between two Chakma houses. The house of Bangalee settler Anawar Hossain was not burnt while the Chakma houses were gutted," said Robayet Ferdous.

In most of the villages all houses of the indigenous people were gutted while the houses of settlers were not, with only a few exceptions, the visitors noted.

"But the Bangalee victims said local indigenous people did not set fire to their houses," Robayet said reading out the written speech.

At the news conference the citizens' group demanded formation of a divisional probe committee and publication of the report. They also demanded stopping settling of Bangalees in Sajek area, and activating the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission to resolve land disputes in the area.

They also demanded release of three indigenous youths who have been detained in the army camp since the attack.

Human rights activist Barrister Sarah Hossain, Gono Forum leader Pankaj Bhattachariaya, and journalist Shameema Binte Rahman were also among the visitors, who were present at the news conference too.