Conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

 

An Understanding Of The CHT Peace Treaty/Accord

Thousands were killed in the armed encounters. Bangladesh security forces regularly resorted to mass detention and torture of villagers and left many of them crippled for life. Hundreds of women were raped.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (hereafter CHT), located in the south eastern part of Bangladesh was wracked by intense armed conflict for nearly two and a half decades. The conflict between the tribal communities who live in these hill tracts and the government of Bangladesh, which began in 1972 finally ended in 1997 after the conclusion of a peace agreement popularly known as the âCHT Peace Treatyâ. However, even after one and half decades, most of the provisions of the treaty remain unimplemented. The land of the local people which was taken over and distributed to state sponsored Bengali settlers, has not been returned. The promise of withdrawal of cases against the members of the guerrilla force has not been fulfilled and regional council which was to govern the CHT remains in a limbo. It has raised serious concerns about the sustainability of the peace process initiated through the Peace treaty of 1997. The main parties to the conflict were Parbattya Chhatagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the political organisation of the local tribes, who collectively call themselves as the âJumma Peopleâ and the government of Bangladesh. The conflict began after the formation of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign republic which adopted constitution that set up a unitary system of government which did not recognise the multi ethnic and multi-lingual character of the people. The Jumma people saw this as an attempt to impose homogeneity and establish hegemony of the majority Bengali community.

The CHT Peace Treaty/Accord

The Parbattya Chhattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the political platform of the Jumma people signed a treaty with the Bangladesh government on 2 December, 1 997 The accord addressed five major issues in the CHT. 1. Devolution of power to the Hill District Councils; 2. Setting up a Regional Councils and CHT Ministry as the units of self- government in the CHT; 3. Establishment of a land commission to deal with conflicts over land and natural resource rights; 4. Recognition of the cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples and 5.Withdrawal of military forces from CHT and the de-commissioning and rehabilitation of JSS forces. The treaty was opposed by several groups of Jumma people Pahari Gano Parishad (PGP or Hill Peoples Council), Pahari Chattra Parishad (PCP or Hill Students Council) and Hill Women Federation (HWF). The disaffected groups argued that the accord failed to reflect the genuine hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and has failed to fulfil the main demands of the Jumma people namely, constitutional recognition to the national ethnic minorities of the CHT with guarantee for âFull Autonomyâ, restoration of traditional land rights, demilitarisation of the area, and withdrawal and resettlement of the Bengali settlers in the plain land. In December 1998, the groups opposed to the Peace Treaty formed a regional political party in the CHT, It was named United People's Democratic Front (UPDF). The main objective of the UPDF was to establish full autonomy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts through peaceful and democratic means. At the founding conference of the party a five member convening committee was formed with Prasit Bikash Khisha as its convener. The UPDF and PCJSS have engaged in retributive kidnappings, extortions, and murders since 1997.

Peace Accord: The Unfulfilled Promises

  1. The government of Bangladesh had committed to withdraw Bengali settlers from CHT and that these persons were to be resettled to other plains districts of the country. Unfortunately, the government failed to initiate the necessary steps to implement the withdrawal programme. On the contrary, the government formulated âdevelopmentâ projects like rubber plantation and issued licenses for exploration of natural gas which was seen by the Jumma people as a process of further alienation of their land and encouraging Bengali settlers.
  2. Land Commission was to be set up for settlement of disputes over ownership of land of the Jumma people which was illegally taken over by the settlers from the plains. It was to have full authority to annul the ownership of land by illegal settlers of land in the hill tracts. The government had unilaterally appointed a Land Commission in 1998. The JSS refused to cooperate with this commission. Land Commission remained a contentious issue for nearly twenty years as the law of Bangladesh did not recognise the collective land rights of the Jumma people.
  3. Under the terms of the accord, members of Shanti Bahini were granted amnesty and all old cases against them would be withdrawn. By March 1989, about 2000 members of Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of PCJSS, had surrendered their arms. Until now, only 400 such cases have been withdrawn by the government. On The contrary, tthe government revived old cases against some of the returnees in violation of the terms of the treaty which guaranteed amnesty to returnees.
  4. The provision for the withdrawal of the army camps remains unimplemented. No time limit has been set for the withdrawal of the army and police camps. Out of 230 army camps, more than a 100 BDR (paramilitary) and 80 police camps which were set up in the CHT during conflict period, so far only 32 temporary camps have been dismantled. The army's involvement in civil administration continues as the government order authorising army's involvement in maintenance of law and order remains in force.

The Beginning of the Conflict:

In March 1972, Manabendra Narayan Larma formed the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) to continue the struggle for regional autonomy. The failure of this peaceful movement gave way to the emergence of an armed group named the Shanti Bahini (Peace Brigade). It became a part of the JSS. After the beginning of the armed struggle by the Shanti Bahini, Bangladesh Government launched a counter insurgency programme. A large number of battalions of Bangladesh Army were sent to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and cantonments as well as army barracks were set up in 5 different districts of the CHT. The Jummas were often detained and tortured by the army. Thousands were killed in the armed encounters. Bangladesh security forces regularly resorted to mass detention and torture of villagers and left many of them crippled for life. Hundreds of women were raped. For further consolidating their authority, the security forces uprooted many villages and forcibly kept the people in "cluster villages" which in reality were âconcentration campsâ where the people lived under constant supervision of the military.

Bangladeshi Settlers: In the late 1970s President Zia sponsored migration of Bangladeshi settlers into the CHT, providing land grant, cash and rations. It began as a covert operation. Initially, the government denied the existence of this programme. However, later the government acknowledged that there was a programme of sponsored migration ofBangladeshi settlers. The settlers were allotted agricultural land, given money to build their homes and free ration for a period. By 1981 , under the patronage of the army and Bengali civilian administration the Bangladeshis settlers made up nearly one third of the total population of the CHT.

Forcible Conversion and Religious Persecution: Forcible conversion was used as a method of assimilation. Al-Rabita, a Saudi government funded NGO, with the support of the military converted thousands of Buddhist Jumma people to Islam. The Jammat-i-Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist party became active. While the number of mosques and Madrashas (Islamic schools) increased rapidly, hundreds of religious places of the Jumma peoples were destroyed by the Bangladesh military. In 1986, within a period of eight months 54 Buddhist temples were destroyed and 22 Hindu temples were burnt down by the Bangladesh military.

Compiled from the research: http://idl-bnc.idrc.ca/dspace/bitstream/10625/49985/1 /IDL-49985.pdf

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