SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS back from CHT
Twenty years have passed since the CHT Peace Accord was signed between the government and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samity (PCJSS) to bring peace in the hills. But the pursuit of peace in this region has remained elusive. The residents of the CHT—both ethnic communities and the Bengali settlers—are still passing their days in fear of abduction, extortion, forced disappearance and murder, which regularly plague their lives in the region. “The peace treaty was signed to bring peace and to maintain law and order here. But there is no peace. Extortion and arms flaunting by armed groups are still dominating the region,” said AKM Maqsud Ahmed, editor of The Daily Giridarporn and former president of Rangamati Press Club.
“Locals are in a miserable state. They prefer to remain tight-lipped in fear of the armed groups,” he added. “The situation will deteriorate further if no immediate measure is taken against the illegal arms and extrotion. Withdrawal of Amy camps from here will bear the same effect. No development work can take place in the region, since 50 per cent of the project cost has to be paid as extortion money,” he said.
All residents, farmers, business entities and employees have to pay extortion money to the armed gangs active in the region. Three armed gangs—JSS (Santu Larma), JSS (reforms) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF, Proshid Khisa)—are allegedly involved in widespread extortion, abduction, forced disappearance and murdering people in the hill districts. Of late, another armed group, UPDF (reforms), has emerged here.
It is alleged that some Bengali residents also collect extortion money on behalf these groups. They also collect money as donation for celebrating social and religious festivals at times. If anyone fails to pay up, he/she has to face death or forced disappearance. These extortionists have opened fire on goods-laden vehicles and set them ablaze on many occasions.
Leaders of the Bengali community in the CHT region said that over 2,000
Bengali people have been killed and kidnapped in the last 20 years
They also said that the armed gangs have picked up 16 bikers in the last three years for having refused to pay extortion money on time. The bodies of eight of those bikers have been found. The others could not be traced yet.
Chhenowara Begum, 50, wife of Abul Kashem of Botali Rashid Nagar, said: “My husband was a bike rider. Since he did not bowed down to these armed groups by conceding to their demands, Chakma people abducted him. We’re yet to found his body.”
However, Sajib Chakma, spokesman of JSS, denied the allegations. “No one can give any evidence that JSS is involved in such incidents. We are a democratic organisation. We do everything in a democratic way. We collect donation for our programmes and maintain proper accounts,” he claimed.
“Owing to the non-implementation of the Peace Accord, a section of tribal people are exploiting the frustration of locals. They are involved in terrorism and extortion. Had the peace treaty been fully effective, common people would have built resistance against these miscreants,” he said.
Mikel Chakma, spokesman of UPDF, said: “We’re not involved with extortion. Sometimes, we collect donation for running our organisation. We don’t force anyone to pay up.“
The state minister for CHT Affairs, Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, expressed his concern over the terrorism and extortion in CHT.
SM Moniruzzaman, deputy inspector general (Chittagong Range), said: “We’re not aware of any incident of extortion. If we get any allegation in this regard, we’d take action.”
Moreover, JSS and UPDF had long been engaged in numerous clashes to establish their supremacy in the hills. However, such clashes between these two parties have stopped for the last two years, thanks to the intervention by leaders of these parties who have come to realise the waste of manpower of resources over those skirmishes. “I’m trying play an indirect role to put a stop to violence in the region. Any disagreement between the two parties should be resolved democratically. The government must play a cordial role too,” said Raja Devasish Roy, the Chakma Raja.