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Bangladesh: Political Violence Escalates in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Sharif Khiam
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Police investigate the scene where gunmen shot and killed five people who were traveling to a funeral in Rangamati, Bangladesh, May 4, 2018.
Police investigate the scene where gunmen shot and killed five people who were traveling to a funeral in Rangamati, Bangladesh, May 4, 2018.

At least five people, including the chief of a new political front in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), died Friday when gunmen fired on a minibus carrying mourners to the funeral of another leader slain a day earlier, police said.

Police Superintendent Md Alamgir Kabir said the roadside attack occurred in Rangamati, one of the three southeastern districts that make up the CHT, a heavily militarized region where tensions have long existed between local tribal communities and Bengali settlers.

Among those killed in the noontime attack was Tapan Jyoti Chakma (alias Borma), who headed the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF)-Democratic, a breakaway faction of the UPDF political party, Kabir said.

“Four people died on the spot and nine others were injured when the assailants fired on the mourners. Another person died at the hospital while undergoing treatment,” Kabir told BenarNews.

He identified the other victims as Tonoy Chakma, Sujon Chakma, Setu Lal Chakma and driver Md Sajib.

On Thursday, unidentified gunmen killed Shaktiman Chakma, chairman of Naniarchar upazila (sub-district) in front of his office in Rangamati. Shaktiman’s organization, Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma), blamed the UPDF for his death.

“The massacre took place while Shaktiman’s funeral had been going on in Kuttamara village,” Kabir said. “We will launch an investigation to arrest those involved in the killing.”

Violent region

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, tribal people constitute 51 percent of the population scattered in the region’s three districts, Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban, had fought a rebellion against the central government and Bengali settlers since the 1970s.

After the 1975 assassination of Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding prime minister, in 1979, military ruler Gen. Ziaur Rahman authorized the military to carry out operations in the hill districts. He also moved thousands of poor Bengalis into the hill tracts, forcing tribal people to flee to India.

Early on, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) led guerrilla wars against the Bangladesh army.

On Dec. 2, 1997, the PCJSS, led by former guerrilla leader Shantu Larma, formally ended their armed struggle against the government forces by signing a peace treaty. Today, PCJSS leader Shantu Larma serves as a state minister.

Shaktiman Chakma, the local upazila chairman who was slain on Thursday, had joined Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma), a faction that opposed Shantu Larma.

The UPDF came into existence in 1997 and opposed the treaty.

In November 2017, a faction of the UPDF, led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma, formed the UPDF-Democratic.

Liton Chakma, a leader of UPDF-Democratic, blamed UPDF for Friday’s attack.

“The UPDF has established a reign of terror in the hill by killing Tapan Jyoti Borma in 24 hours after killing Shaktiman Chakma,” Liton told journalists.

The UPDF said it was not involved.

“This has been a common practice in the hills to blame every incident on rivals. This practice saves the real killers,” Michael Chakma, a UPDF leader, told BenarNews.

“They (UPDF-Democratic) have been blaming us to make political gains,” he said while blaming the government.

“We have come to know that Friday’s killings took place in the presence of the law enforcers. Mainly they have been out to create unrest in the hill,” Michael said.

Kabir, the police superintendent, denied the allegation, blaming the killings on conflicts among feuding factions.

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