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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ethnic Violence Grips Bangladesh

Source: Asia Security Initiative blog, MacArthur Foundation

On February 23, Dhaka authority deployed troops in the south-eastern Khagrachhari district (Chittagong Hill Tracts) after clashes between ethnic tribal people and Bengali settlers left at least 15 people injured and several houses torched. Earlier, similar violence took place in Rangamati district on February 19-20.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) stated that at least eight Chakmas (one of the indigenous tribes of CHTs) were shot dead by the Bangladesh army personnel while dozens were injured on Feb 19-20. However the government has denied the reports so far.

Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights issued a statement to media (the author of this blog also received the statement) saying,

It is established beyond any reasonable doubt that the Bangladesh army is denying access to the sites to prevent the truth from coming out. The arrest of six Chakmas who got admitted at Baghachari army camp with bullet injuries sustained in the firing of the Bangladesh Army for alleged rioting is a direct attempt to discourage the indigenous peoples from approaching the authorities and therefore, keep the massacre under the carpet.

It is quite evident that the non-implementation of the 1997 Accord and continuing appropriation of the lands of tribal peoples are the root causes of this ongoing violence. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) region in Bangladesh was plagued by decade long insurgency in the 1980s. In 1997 a peace accord inked between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), a political platform of the tribal people, now known as the United Peoples Democratic Front, brought some sort of respite to the indigenous tribal people.

Fear looms large on the horizon that Chittagong Hills of Bangladesh, home to at least 12 ethnic minority groups, is bracing for another round of severe and prolong ethnic conflict. The fear is not restricted to only violence between tribal hill people, predominantly Buddhist and Bengali migrant settlers in Chittagong Hill, but the imminent return of armed vigilante movements (remember the Shanti Bahini’s armed movement) which might resurface to safeguard tribal rights and identity of the region or to secure the Jumma nation (homeland for the tribal hill people) all over again.

Meanwhile, the ACHR accused the Bangladesh government of only arresting people from the tribal communities from in and around Khagrachhari district. ACHR also calls for a judicial inquiry to be completed within 90 days into the killings and destruction of properties till now, and fully implement the CHTs Accord of 1997 within specific time frame.

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