Friday, April 25, 2008

Fresh violence in CHT: Indigenous villages attacked

Photo: Young Jumma girl joins the protest against ethnic cleansing of Jummas in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh in front of the United Nations, New York in April 2008

BENGALI SETTLERS allegedly supported by a strong Bangladeshi military contingent carried out arson attacks in the four villages of Jumma indigenous people under Sajek Union of Rangamati district. Nine indigenous people were wounded and over 100 houses including a Buddhist temple were burnt down in the attacks begun at 9.45 p.m. and lasted till 2 a.m. on 20 April, sources close to the indigenous people said. Indigenous women and girls were raped during the attacks, the sources added. Details of the incident are yet to come.

There has been a long-standing tension in the area between local indigenous people and new Bengali settlers over illegal land grabbing by the latter. The tension started some three years back with the construction of a road and other infrastructure by Bangladeshi military for settlement of about 5000 new Bengali settler families and control over the remote area rich with forest resources and thinly populated by indigenous people. Local indigenous people supported by indigenous political and human rights organizations protested the move and urged the then Government of Bangladesh to stop it. However, the process of settlement of Bengali settlers in the areas near to the villages continued and still continuing.

On 20 April while settlers were preparing for the attacks in a usual manner, some 60 indigenous people gathered at one point for defending their villages. Military cordoned them and assured them "peace" and "security" in the area. A military man Habildar Mohammad Harun is said to have told them thus: "Since we're here, settlers won't attack you". The Commanding Officer (C.O.) of Baghaihat military camp was also present there. Meanwhile, an organized group of settlers numbering about 100 equipped with spade, dao and heavy stick started setting fire in the Jumma villages namely Gangaram Mukh, Simana Chara, Purbo Para and Baibachara. They raised anti-Jumma slogans, beat up whosoever they found, looted the houses and raped women and girls during the attacks. Military did not prevent them, said the sources quoting local indigenous people.

Quoting police sources some Bangladeshi media (http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=33251) reported the incident as an attack by unidentified "miscreants" in which nine Bengali settlers were injured. The administration was left with no clue about the 'miscreants". No one responsible for the incident was arrested so far.

Khagrachhari Hill District Council Chairman Monindra Lal Tripura, Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati Md Nurul Amin, Rangamati Police Super Md Abdul Baten and other high level government officials visited the spot yesterday (21 April), said the Daily Star.

The administration deployed police and military to maintain what it called "communal harmony" in the area.

Soon after the incident the military-backed Caretaker Government has become very active in making public statements stating that the Land Commission will be made effective before the end the term of the Caretaker Government (see Raja Devasish Roy's talks to the bdnews24.com, Monday), all land disputes will be settled and detail discussion will be held on this issue etc. But no one knows when the term will be ended, whether or not this "detail discussion" will be translated into action and why the Government is suddenly feeling now, after 11 years of the "CHT Peace Accord", the need to settle land disputes. All these statements seem to be nothing but a deliberate attempt of the Government to divert the attention of the international community from the Sajek violence.

This is the fourth largest arson attack after the Mahalchari (26 August 2003), Dighinala (18 May 2001) and Ramgarh (25 June 2001) ones on indigenous villages by Bengali settlers since the signing of the 1997 "CHT Peace Accord". And it is believed to be part of the Bangladeshi ethnic cleansing policy in the CHT.

The "CHT Peace Accord" signed between the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS=United People's Party) and the then Government of Bangladesh seeks to resolve the decade-old problems of the indigenous people. However, the Government even after 11 years failed to implement the major provisions of the Accord like settlement of land disputes between indigenous people and Bengali settlers, demilitarization of the CHT region, and delegation of power to local government formed under the Accord. The implementation process of the Accord suffered a serious setback with the imposition of Emergency and de facto military rule in Bangladesh since the mid of this year. The Bangladeshi military regime in the CHT has crushed with force all institutions and mechanisms which were defending the "CHT Peace Accord" and the rights of the indigenous people. A many indigenous political and human rights activists have been put into jail. A representative (name not mentioned for security reason) of the indigenous people has been invited to participate in the United Nations Permanent Forum holding from 21 April to 2 May 2008 at the UN Headquarters in New York. However, he was not in a position to leave the country for the fear of being arrested and jailed on return to home. Some indigenous persons who worked closely with the Government of Bangladesh are reportedly attending the Forum.

Historical Background Of The Conflict:
East Pakistan emerged as an independent and sovereign nation-state named 'Bangladesh' in 1971. The Jumma indigenous peoples led by PCJSS have been fighting with the Bangladeshi authorities for recognition and protection of their distinct identity and culture and for self-determination since 1972. In response, the authorities have adopted a policy of demographic invasion or 'Islamization', the term as the local people prefer to use for it, under which hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Muslim Bengalis are transferred to and settled in the land of the indigenous peoples with government funds and active involvement of state-actors, military in particular. It goes without saying that the policy is aimed at cleansing the indigenous peoples ethnically and culturally. It resulted in killing of over 10,000 Jummas in the 13 major genocides (Sources: Jumma Committee for International Campaign, 1999, http://www.angelfire.com/ab/jumma; PCJSS, An Account of Genocides and Atrocities committed by Bangladeshi Forces and Illegal Muslim Bengali Infiltrators in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, November 1986-19 January 1987, 1987, p. 1) and other forms of human rights violation as well as in an influx of about 70,000 Jumma refugees into the Indian State of Tripura in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It brought about a dramatic change in the demographic composition (of the total population of the CHT, Muslim Bengalis constituted 1.5% in 1941, 6.29% in 1951, 11.77% in 1961, 41% in 1981, 49% in 1991, and 65% in 2001) (Sources: Census reports, 1941, 1951, 1961, 1981, 2001. Indigenous sources believe that the figure shown in 1991 and afterwards is highly manipulated and politically motivated. Muslim Bengalis constituted more than 65% of the total population of the CHT in 2001, and the figure was increasing alarmingly everyday, the sources claim) and social fabric of the CHT. #

24 April 2008 Peace Campaign Group (PCG) RZ-I-91/211, West Sagarpur, New Delhi-110046, India Tel: + 91-11-2 539 8383 Telefax: + 91-11-2 539 4277
E-mail: pcgoffice@yahoo.co.in, pcgonline@gmail.com