Violent clashes erupted between ethnic Jumma (largely Buddhists) minorities and Bengali settlers in the Khagrachhari and Rangamati districts in Chittagong Hill between 19-23 February, resulting in at least four deaths. Hundreds have reportedly been injured or displaced. Reports claim that thousands of indigenous people were made homeless after arsonists supported by Bangladeshi soldiers burned down nearly 600 Jamma buildings, including residential houses, temples, churches and schools, during the violence. However, the Bangladeshi government has denied any involvement, direct or indirect, in the recent violence.
Now that a tenuous peace has returned to Bangladesh’s tribal Chittagong Hill Tracts region following clashes between tribes and settlers in violence that some say was encouraged by the military, all eyes are now on how Dhaka will respond. I published a report on this issue titled “Bangladesh Under Fire over Tribal Violence” at ISN Security Watch, Zurich, with views from couple of expert observers of the situation.
For a brief background, read ASI Blog report, “Ethnic Violence Grips Bangladesh”, February 24, 2010.
Here is the transcript of my interview with Sophie Grig, senior campaigner with Survival International. The London-based Survival International advocates for tribal rights worldwide and has been long monitoring the CHT situation. Your (ASI Blog readers) Comments are very welcome.
Q1- Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh have witnessed violence recently. How do you describe this episodic ethnic violence that surfaced in the area between Bengali settlers and Jumma Hill people?
Sadly, the recent violence comes as no surprise to those who are following the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Tension had been building up in the Sajek region for some time, with settlers, supported by the soldiers, taking land from the Jumma tribal people. The history of conflict between the two groups means that any incident can spark great tensions which can rapidly get out of hand. As happened here, once the violence was triggered, settlers have taken the opportunity to burn down the houses of innocent Jumma villagers. Because the army supports and encourages the settlers, they are able to act without restraint. Soldiers have been involved in gross human rights violations in the CHT, with impunity, for many years. It is essential that those responsible for the shooting of Jumma people are brought to justice and a full impartial investigation should take place into the whole incident. Until the Jummas have their land rights fully recognized and the CHT is demilitarized (including the removal of all the temporary military camps, as agreed in the Peace Accord), the Jumma people will not be able to feel safe on their own land.
Q2- CHTs Peace Accord is 12 years old and yet to be implemented in real terms. Is there a lack of political will or vested interest playing a larger game here?
I think for many years there was a absence of much needed ‘political will’ to implement the peace accord. Couple of years back, there have been many positive signs but nothing although it is not happening fast enough. I also believe that there are vested interests in the CHT, within the army and the settler communities, who do not want the accord to be implemented and who do not want the military to lose their control in the region. Survival is calling on the government to fully implement the CHT peace accord and to ensure that all those responsible for attacks against the Jumma people are brought to justice.
Q3- Do you think that there will be reemergence armed groups in CHTs to protect minority rights, especially in the face of alleged military repressions?
I hope that this won’t be the case, and that this recent violence will have helped those within the Jumma community, who are divided about how best to push for peace in their region, to unite and work together for the rights of all Jummas.
Q4- Any recommendations for the Dhaka authority?
It is important for the Jummas to regain trust in the Government after these brutal attacks. Therefore, it is essential that there should be a full, independent investigation into the recent events and the role army played there. Those responsible for this atrocity must be brought to justice. While the army, and settlers, are seen to be able to kill and destroy with such impunity, the Jummas will never be safe on their own land. We call on the Bangladesh government to put an end to army violence in the CHT, withdraw the army camps, and fully implement the Peace Accord.