22 yrs of peace accord
CHT men passing dreadful days for violence
321 killed, 516 abducted in 5 yrs
Md Joynal Abedin Khan :
The inhabitants of hilly areas have been passing dreadful days centering the incidents of nonstop political violence, land occupation and extortion after elapsing 22 years of Peace Accord on Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
They are still in panic as the rivalry, killing and abduction are occurring one after another to establish supremacy in Rangmati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban hill districts.
The three districts comprise one tenth of the country's landmass. The population of these districts is around 16 lakh. Over 50 per cent of them are Bangalis and the rest are tribal people. The Bangalis are settlers from the plains.
According to detectives data, at least 182 firing incidents have taken place in these three districts in last five years that claimed lives of 321 people. Of them, 114 are Bangali nationals and 207 indigenous people.
A total of 901 people also received injuries in such as clashes, the data also reports.
Besides, 516 locals, including tribal men, were abducted following the political revenge among the several tribal groups, the data added.
Intelligence sources said, there are 2000 armed members of the three local extremist groups involved in illegal toll collection. Of them, 750 belong to UPDF while 900 belong to JSS-Santu and 350 of JSS (Reformists).
Surrounding the 22nd signing anniversary of the peace treaty between the government and PCJSS, the Shantu Larma-led JSS has recently served a letter to its party comrades for realising extortion money from different quarters, including businessmen, government officials, construction firms, transport owners' association, hotel, motel and even tourists.
Fear has gripped the residents of CHT as pre-planned military-style ambush for retaining supremacy in the area was a daily affair in this picturesque land, said Kazi Md Mujibur Rahman, former general secretary of ruling Awami League, Bandarban district unit. Armed terrorism and extortion have been on the rise.
Armed terrorists-cum-extortionists belonging to different hill tracts-based political parties, including United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), UPDF (Democrats), Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samity (JSS-Santu) and Jana Sanghati Samity (Reformists) are involved in this crime. But the representatives of these parties, however, deny extorting money from different quarters forcibly, intelligence sources said.
Extortionists collect more than Tk 400 crore every year from public, private sector workers, businessmen and also from the residents of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari, they said.
They said people of the three hill districts are hostage in the hands of the extortionists and want an end to this situation.
"Aanado Chakma, a UPDF leader, who surrendered to the Army, identified the four tribal groups that are involved in extortion from both the tribal and the Bangali people. If anyone refuses to pay money, they (extortionists) kill them," he said.
According to locals, JSS-Santu collects toll at 10 per cent rate on the sale of each cow or goat while UPDF and JSS (reformists) charge Tk 150 to Tk 200 for each cow and Tk 100 for a goat.
A professional fisherman has to pay Tk 45,000 to Tk 50,000 annually to JSS-Santu, JSS (reformists) and the UPDF.
People from other backgrounds are also forced to pay according to the list of subscription. The tribal outfits collect tolls and donations from individuals on the eve of social and religious festivals, local sources said.
Apart from the Bangali, hill people also have to pay extortion money on a regular basis. Each rich family has to pay Tk 1,000 to JSS-Santu and UPDF separately while a middle-income family has to pay Tk 500 to JSS-Santu and Tk 400 to UPDF and JSS (Reformists), and a low-income family pays Tk 300 to JSS-Santu and Tk 200 to UPDF and JSS (Reformists).
Bandarban District Council Chairman and Awami League President Kyaw Shwe Hla said that though the peace treaty was signed, the feuding tribal groups, including PCJSS, is yet to deposit their illegal arms and ammunitions hampering peace in the hilly region.
By using these sophisticated arms and ammunitions, these rival ethnic groups had been carrying out armed hooliganism and extortion on the three hill districts. It should be stopped at any cost, he said.
Bandarban district superintendent of Police (SP) Zakir Hossain Mojumder said that the extortion is the main cause behind the armed terrorism among the rival tribal groups on the hills. It's (extortion) their main source of income.
On December 2 in 1997, the accord was signed between the government and the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) during the first tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ending bloody conflicts in three hill districts.
The then Jatiya Sangsad Chief Whip Abul Hasnat Abdullah signed the agreement on behalf of the government while Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma (Santu Larma) on behalf of the PCJSS.
Besides, the United Progressive Democratic Party (UPDF) came into existence in 1997 and opposed the treaty.