Bangladesh: Govt doing little to implement it Say indigenous leaders

    Political and civil society leaders of indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) have expressed dismay alleging that the Awami League-led government has done little to implement the CHT peace accord. The peace treaty was signed on this day in 1997 by the then AL government and Prabatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS). Indigenous leaders said they had expected that the present government would set a specific timeframe for the full implementation of the peace deal.They said the government had only formed some bodies like the Peace Accord Implementation Committee, CHT Affairs Taskforce, CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission and some 35 makeshift security camps, and had withdrawn troops from the region. But the ethnic people's constitutional rights to land remained far from being ensured, the leaders added.“It will be wrong to say the government has done nothing. It withdrew army camps and entrusted hill district councils with their task,” said Raja Devasish Roy, chief of Chakma circle, adding, “The government has to work on big issues like solving the land disputes and rehabilitation of Jumma refugees.”
    He said communal violence was prevailing in the region instead of peace. Roy demanded high-level enquiry for the September 22 Rangamati violence. According to Roy, bringing permanent peace in the region is not possible by engaging more army and Rab in the hills. “We need to train up and equip a mixed police force for the region,” he said. He also pointed out that the meeting of the CHT affairs advisory committee had not taken place for a long time and that it must be held immediately. KS Prue Chowdhury, incumbent chief of Bomang circle in Bandarban, said he was optimistic about a breakthrough although it might take time. Prakriti Ranjan Chakma, president of CHT unit Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (BAF), said a vested quarter was behind all the communal violence in the hills and was taking advantage of the non-implementation of the peace accord. Sanjib Drong, general secretary of BAF central committee, said the government had been fooling the Jumma people for the last 15 years. It appears to him that the implementation of the accord is not on the government's priority list.
    Shaktipada Tripura, organising secretary of PCJSS central unit, said the land rights of Jumma people had not been ensured while the land commission remained dysfunctional. Fundamental clauses that include resolving land disputes, strengthening of CHT Regional Council and the councils of three hill districts had remained unattended, added Tripura. Goutam Dewan, president of CHT Citizen Committee, said people from the plains were settling in hills every day. “We have now become more marginalised than ever. Political goodwill is crucial to solve the CHT problems,” he added. As per the peace accord, CHT affairs ministry was formed on July 15, 1998 and CHT Regional Council on September 6 that year. Some 12,223 Jumma refugees, who returned from India, were rehabilitated and provided with monthly ration. And 715 members of PCJSS (former Shantibahini) were given jobs in the police department. But meanwhile, hundreds of acres of indigenous people's land in three hill districts had been grabbed by new settlers, and it is still going on, alleged PCJSS. State Minister for CHT affairs ministry Dipankar Talukder told The Daily Star that the government was very sincere about implementing the accord. “But the pro-peace quarters have to come forward with positive attitude, and only then we will be able to overcome the problems,” he added.
    Nikhil Kumar Chakma, chairman of Rangamati Hill District Council, said he wanted election to the hill district councils to make those function better. Since the signing of the peace treaty, nine Jumma people have been killed, 488 injured and some 16 indigenous women and children raped and sexually harassed in communal violence in the hills. A total of 1,255 houses, including four temples and a primary school, of indigenous people were burnt down while 770 houses were looted by Bangalee settlers, said sources from PCJSS publicity section. On top of that, the accord has divided the indigenous community into two sections. While a big portion is hopeful of the full implementation of the treaty, a small group, namely United People's Democratic Front (UPDF) had been opposing the deal from the very beginning demanding full autonomy in the CHT. More than 1,000 leaders and activists of both the groups were killed and around 1,600 injured in attacks and counterattacks between the groups, said sources in different intelligence agencies, PCJSS and UPDF.