Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Trouble flares in hills again

2 ethnic people die in army firing, Bangalee settlers torch 200 houses
At least two indigenous persons were claimed by the authorities to have been killed as the army opened fire on agitated indigenous people feuding with settlers in remote Gangaram Mukh area of Baghaichhari upazila in the district yesterday.
But indigenous people claimed the number of killed to be at least six.
Seven persons including an army person were injured in the incident, which followed an attack on Friday night allegedly by a group of Bangalee settlers on the indigenous people over land disputes, report our correspondents in Rangamati and Khagrachhari.
The settlers had allegedly set fire to 40 houses of indigenous families on Friday night. They burnt 160 more houses in 11 villages yesterday morning in the presence of the army. They also burnt down a church and a Buddhist temple, alleged members of the indigenous community.
The army arrived at the place yesterday morning and charged truncheons to bring the situation under control.
However, the situation got worse when an indigenous man attacked and injured an army sergeant, Rezaul, with a sharp weapon, prompting the army to open fire. Rezaul was sent to Chittagong Combined Military Hospital, sources said.
Witnesses claimed that they could identify at least six dead: Laxmi Bijoy Chakma, 30, Liton Chakma, 34, Buddha Pudi Chakma, 30, Debendra Chakma, 43, Notunjoy Chakma, and Banashanti Chakma, 23.
The injured indigenous persons are Shanta Shil Chakma, Amar Bijoy Chakma, Nibesh Chakma, Mrittunjoy Chakma, Jitendra Chakma and Dari Chakma.
Police confirmed two deaths. Rangamati Superintendent of Police Masud ul Hasan confirmed the death of Budhha Pudi Chakma and the officer-in-charge of Baghaichhari Police Station confirmed the death of Laxmi Bijoy Chakma.
But the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) claimed that eight indigenous persons were killed and 25 were injured.
Meanwhile, Baghaichhari upazila administration yesterday imposed section 144 in Marisya of the upazila as two groups–Pahari Chhatra Parishad, student front of PCJSS, and Parbatya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad, a platform of Bangalee settlers–called protest rallies at the same place centring the incident.
Sources said the violence flared up on Friday night when Bangalee settlers from the neighbouring Russlesquare village set fire to 40 houses of indigenous people at Gangaram Mukh.
Locals alleged that the army backed up the settlers in the arson attack.
But the army claimed that the indigenous people set fire to their own houses with an ulterior motive.
When the army went to Gangaram Mukh yesterday morning to inspect the damage the locals started hurling abuses at them. This soon led to an altercation.
More indigenous people gathered at the spot around 10:00am and the army began charging truncheons to disperse them. At one point, plainclothes Sergeant Rezaul attempted to hit a man, who chopped him with a machete several times and started running away.
This prompted the army men to fire at the indigenous people. At least two persons were bullet hit there and one was killed.
Locals claimed that after firing, the army along with the group of settlers set fire to almost all adjacent villages in Gangaram Mukh area. More people were killed during the arson attacks.
Intermittent gunshots rocked the area until 3:00pm.
At least 200 thatched and corrugated tin-shed houses of indigenous people were burnt to ashes in intermittent attacks made allegedly by Bangalee settlers.
The affected villages are Guchchhagram, Gangaram Mukh, Hajachhara, Simanachhara, Retkaba, Jarulchhari, Dippara, Dane Bhaibachhara, Bame Bhaibachhara, MSF Para and Purbapara.
As the settlers continued the arson attacks until yesterday morning, the indigenous community began to resist them. Six indigenous persons were injured during this resistance.
Receiving information, army from adjacent Baghaihat zone went to the spot at about 10:00am and tried to calm down the feuding groups.
Indigenous people alleged that the Bangalee settlers have been constructing new structures on their land in Gangaram Mukh area, which triggered the dispute over land ownership.
They also said some of the dead bodies could not be recovered as the entire area is now under the control of the settlers and army vigilance.
Baghaichhari upazila Chairman Sudarshan Chakma said about 10 people died in the incidents but the dead bodies could not be recovered from the places of occurrence as Bangalee settlers were present there.
Baghaichhari Upazila Nirbahi Officer SM Humayun Kabir confirmed the incident but said he heard that two people were killed but he was not sure.
“I saw fire and huge black smoke everywhere in Gangaram Mukh area. I saw houses being set on fire,” he told The Daily Star.
“I along with the army and the OC of Baghaichhari Police Station was going to Gangaram Mukh at about 10:30am to control the situation. But we could not go much further in the face of the riot between the settlers and indigenous people,” Humayun said.
“I heard a lot of gunshots but I was not sure who were firing,” the UNO added.
Sourendra Nath Chakrabarty, deputy commissioner of Rangamati, said, “I am still not clear about the incident. But I heard about the feud between Bangalee settlers and indigenous people over land dispute and burning down of houses. Our UNO along with the OC went to the spot. So, I will confirm when they report to me after returning from the scene.”
Baghaichhari Police Station OC Noyeem Uddin told The Daily Star that the situation was out of control and that additional police forces were deployed.
BACKGROUND OF FEUD
On January 10, indigenous people of Retkaba village in Baghaihat submitted a memorandum to the Baghaichhari UNO under the banner of Sazek Bhumi Rakkha Committee. They gave an ultimatum until January 16 to return their land allegedly grabbed by Bangalee settlers, stop resettlement of Bangalees there and remove settlers from the area, sources said.
As there was no fruitful result, the villagers staged agitation and boycotted the Baghaihat market.
On January 21, army from Baghaihat zone went to the Shaheed Ladu Monin market and beat up some indigenous people for boycotting the market, injuring eight.
On January 23, Sazek Nari Samaj, a body of indigenous women in Sazek union, put up a dawn-to-dusk road blockade on Dighinala-Baghaichhari and Baghaichhari-Sazek roads, making the same demands.
About 15 indigenous people including Baghaihat Primary School head teacher Shakya Bodhi Chakma were injured as settlers attacked them.
REACTIONS
Protesting the incidents, the PCJSS yesterday brought out a procession in the town and held a rally on Rangamati-Chittagong road. They demanded immediate judicial enquiry into the incidents and warned of tougher agitation programmes if their demand is not met.
In a press release, the PCJSS said the army could have prevented the attacks by the settlers, but a section in the army and a hardcore communal group under the name of Bangalee Chhatra Parishad made the attacks to grab land and create anarchy in the region.
The United People’s Democratic Front in a press release condemned the incidents and declared a dawn-to-dusk blockade of roads and waterways on February 22 in Rangamati and Khagrachhari.
At a press conference at Rangamati Reporters Unity, the Parbatya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad also protested the incident and blamed indigenous people for it. They declared the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission unwanted in CHT and blamed it for working in favour of the indigenous people.

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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