Chittagong complexities
on Bangin' in the 'Desh (Bangladesh), 02/Apr/2010 13:56, 34 days ago
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Before I leave Bangladesh I am determined to visit the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It's an area that absolutely fascinates me even though it is a notorious 'troubled' part of the country but apparently, the 'hills' are so different from the 'plains' it's like being somewhere else, somewhere completely magical.The Chittagong Hill Tracts lie in south-eastern Bangladesh, and borders India and Myanmar. It was a single district of Bangladesh until1984 but in that year it was divided into three separate districts: Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban. The early history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is a record of constantly recurring raids on the part of the eastern hill tribes, and of the operations undertaken to repress them. The troubles date back hundreds of years and are even ongoing today despite the current 'peace treaty' initiated by the current Bangladesh government.Here's the 'Coles' notes version from a recent Amnesty International investigation that was sparked from an outbreak of unrest in February:For decades, tension has been high in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where the Jumma indigenous communities are at risk of being outnumbered by Bengali settlers who continue to take over their land. More than two decades of insurgency by the indigenous people came to an end when the previous Awami League government signed a peace accord with their representatives in December 1997. Two of the most important provisions of the accord remain unfulfilled. One is the formation of a land commission to identify land taken away from the indigenous people during the insurgency, which should be returned to them. This commission has just been set up after a delay of more than 12 years, but has not begun its work yet. Another provision of the accord relates to the withdrawal of temporary army camps, of which some 400 remain in the area. The government began to withdraw some of the major temporary camps last year, but the process has reportedly been halted again.Bengali settlers have continued to take over indigenous land and drive indigenous people out of their homes, but the army which is in control of law and order in the area has allegedly not stopped them. Indigenous people say the army has in this way condoned human rights abuses committed by Bengali settlers against them.On the 20th of February, the Jumma indigenous people were peacefully demonstrating in their villages against the attacks by Bengali settlers and the army reportedly came to stop the demonstration. An army commander ordered the indigenous people to leave the area but they resisted. One of the demonstrators was reportedly attacked and injured the army commander with a knife. Army personnel then fired live ammunition at the demonstrators, which hit at least two people who later died and at least 25 people were injured during the shooting. The Jumma indigenous people began to flee the area but Bengali settlers moved in and torched at least 160 of their homes, allegedly with army personnel taking no action to stop them. They also looted the Jumma people’s belongings and destroyed their religious icons, including statutes of Buddha.Then, on the 23rd of February, Bengali settlers attacked a procession of indigenous people who were demanding government action against the 19th and 20th of February arson attacks and killings. The procession was taking place in Khagrachari which is in another district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bengali settlers then reportedly set on fire at least 37 houses of the Jumma indigenous people. The attack triggered a clash between the settlers and the Jumma people and the Jumma people were also reported to have set at least 29 houses of Bengali settlers onfire during these clashes on the 23rd of February.Local authorities imposed severe restrictions on indigenous people’s access to the media and independent observers and journalists are not allowed to enter the area. Army staff apparently told them these measures are for the security of the journalists themselves, but human rights activists have told Amnesty International that the army has in this way preventedan independent assessment of what has happened and who has been responsible for the attacks. Since the 19th of February, at least four journalists covering the attacks have been attacked and injured by the Bengali settlers. Given the allegations that state officials including army personnel may have acted in support of the Bengali settlers, there is a risk that incriminating evidence could be destroyed before independent observers including journalists can visit the sites of the violence.More than 100 Jumma indigenous people are believed to be in detention, with dozens more missing. Apparently, relatives are afraid to go to the police stations or army posts to inquire about their missing members, so they have little information about their whereabouts. According to reports, some of these detainees are people who went to hospital for treatment after the attack but were taken into custody and police have also reportedly arrested about 30 Bengali settlers.As of now, more than 1500 Jumma indigenous people have fled their homes and are living under open skies in deep forest, with no shelter and little access to food. The injured are reportedly afraid to go to hospitals as they run the risk of being arrested.I was reading that Amnesty International have stepped in, calling on the government of Bangladesh to:- Carry out prompt, impartial, and independent investigation into these attacks and killings to identify individuals who set houses on fire and army personnel who may have used excessive force, and bring those responsible to justice in a fair trial without resort to the death penalty;- Ensure that the detainees have access to lawyers of their own choice, can challenge the legality of their detention, have access to family visits and medical treatment, and are not at risk of torture;- Compensate the victims and survivors of the attacks, rehabilitate the people who have lost their homes and belonging and provide them with medical treatment for their injuries;- Allow independent observers to visit the sites of the violence, and ensure the security of the Jumma indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.So now it's a waiting game to see what happens next...To end this post, I also wanted to post a link from today's Daily Star (the same English newspaper I posted th other day). A friend I worked within Edinburgh actually wrote this article and I think it truly captures the essence of the troubles in this region...