Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Biggest pullout from CHT

Govt decides to withdraw one brigade, 35 temporary army camps by Sept; 200 camps already withdrawn in phases as per the 1997 peace accord
In a major development towards implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord 1997, the government has decided to withdraw one brigade of troops and 35 temporary security camps from CHT areas by this September.
As part of phasing out of military from the three hill districts as per the agreement, the announced withdrawal will start immediately, says an official statement disclosed yesterday. A few more steps are also being taken to implement the historic peace accord.
“This is the biggest army withdrawal from the area after the accord was signed,” says the statement of the Armed Forces Division under the Prime Minister’s Office.
The decision to withdraw one brigade of troops consisting of three infantry battalions and 35 security camps was made analysing the law and order in the CHT, says a press release of the Inter Services Public Relations Directorate.
Sources in the Army Headquarters said after the withdrawal of 35 camps, more than 300 camps will remain in the CHT. These are expected to be withdrawn in phases. The brigade at Kaptai in Rangamati will be shifted to Chittagong Cantonment, they added.
According to the peace accord, the government is supposed to withdraw all military camps and security forces from CHT areas excepting the three cantonments in Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati district headquarters and those in Alikadam and Ruma upazilas of Bandarban and Dighinala of Khagrachhari, police and border security.
Two hundred security camps have so far been withdrawn in phases since the accord was signed between the then Awami League government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity on December 2, 1997 to bring an end to two decades of insurgency and unrest in the hill districts.
After signing the accord, members of the Jana Sanghati Samity who had been fighting for autonomy of the CHT surrendered arms to the then AL government.
However, implementation of the accord lost momentum after the BNP-Jamaat-led alliance government assumed state power in 2001. The alliance had opposed signing of the accord.
After assuming power in January, the AL again initiated steps to implement the CHT Peace Accord to bring normalcy in the region and in May made Deputy Leader of the House Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury the chairperson of a national committee for implementation of the accord.
“The government expects that the army withdrawal will be considered by the hill people as a milestone of implementing its pledges,” the statement of the Armed Forces Division says.
In the statement, the government has sought all-out cooperation and support of the hill people and other populations to ensure coexistence of all people irrespective of religion and caste, restoration of law and order, and continuation of development activities in the area.
“Bangladesh government is very sincere and committed to fully realising the accord,” the statement reads.
It says the government has taken steps like fixing the procedure for the implementation of the peace accord, reconstitution of the parliamentary standing committee on CHT affairs ministry, arranging meetings to resolve multifaceted problems of the three hill districts, and starting reform process of the Land Commission.
Contacted by The Daily Star, Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain, who worked in Bandarban as a senior army official from 1990 to 1992, yesterday said the law and order in CHT areas is not volatile now.
However, regular law enforcement agencies will have to keep vigil on the activities of United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF), which opposed the peace accord, and any foreign intrusion in the areas to ensure the smooth pace of development activities, he said.
Sakhawat, also an election commissioner, suggested that the government take steps to hold the long due elections to the three hill districts to revitalise their activities involving people.
He said troops deployment in CHT areas was begun before 1975 but the major deployment was done during 1978-1980. At that time, there were four brigades in the areas, Sakhawat said.
Talking to The Daily Star, a senior official of a hill district administration last night said a few days ago a meeting discussed the course of actions following the latest pullout. Security measures will be rearranged after consultation with all upazila nirbahi officers to ensure peace in the regions, he said.
The official said they would not face any problem in maintaining law and order as the army will be there after rearranging their deployment. For instance, three zones under the cantonment in the district will then constitute two zones.
Armed police battalion was asked to be prepared to take extra measures, if necessary, to maintain peace in the hill districts, a senior official of armed police battalion told The Daily Star yesterday.
Our Khagrachhari correspondent talked to two leaders of the UPDF and Jana Sanghati Samity. Japan Marma, president of Manikchhari upazila unit of Jana Sanghati Samity, said, “The long demand of indigenous people will be met through this pullout.”
However, Khagrachhari UPDF leader Rina Dewan termed this eyewash, saying the government is pulling out the camps and forces, which are not required any more. It is not being done as part of the implementation process of the accord, she alleged.  
Courtesy of The Daily Star

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