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Amnesty slams Bangladesh inaction on tribal dispute

Rights group says pledges made in 1997 remain unfulfilled

Amnesty slams Bangladesh inaction on tribal dispute

A Pahari tribal woman working on her smallholding reporters, Bandarban and Dhaka

June 13, 2013

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Bangladesh has come under fire from Amnesty International for failing to resolve a long running tribal dispute in the troubled Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region.

The prominent human rights group claims the government has still not fulfilled pledges it made in a peace accord signed more than 15 years ago. Amnesty's newly released report says tens of thousands of Pahari hilltribe people remain landless and trapped in a cycle of violent clashes with Bengali settlers.

 “The current situation, with violent clashes being fuelled by disputes over land, continues to cause immense insecurity and suffering for the Pahari indigenous people, and the Bangladeshi authorities have to address it immediately,” said Andrew Erueti, an Amnesty researcher on indigenous peoples’ rights.

The report follows a last-minute government decision last week to defer a new law aimed at resolving land disputes in three hill districts, after several days of protests against it by Bengali organizations.

Land reform is a key component of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997, signed by the government and regional political party Parbatya Chattyagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) which ended two decades of armed conflict between the army and the PCJSS.

However, the accord has remained largely unimplemented due to continued and often violent Bengali opposition.

“The Bengali settlers protest against it because they don’t want justice for tribal people and peace in the hills,” said Milton Tripura, a Catholic member of the CHT Regional Council.

“Tribal people think they own the hills and Bengali people are just outsiders,” retorted Muhammad Ibrahim, a representative for local Bengali students. ”Permanent and migrated Bengali people are already facing torture and troubles from tribals. If the government approved the law, it would worsen the situation.”

Nurul Islam, a deputy secretary at Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry says this polarized opposition poses a serious dilemma for the government with national elections looming next year.

“Once, tribal people were dominant in the hills in terms of numbers,” he said. "Today, the number of tribals and Bengali people are almost the same, which makes it tough for the government to take a final decision.”

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