Chittagong Hill Tracts killings spark panic
Roads blockaded as tensions rise following murder of four activists
The murder of four activists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh has sparked widespread panic among tribal Christians and triggered protests across the district.
Four activists of the United People’s Democratic Front, including one of its leaders, were gunned down on Saturday in Rangamati district.
The incident once again threatens to derail the peace process following an accord signed in 1997 between the indigenous people’s political party, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), and the then-Awami League government that ended 22 years of guerrilla warfare.
The UPDF, however, was formed by a dissident group of students, women activists and political leaders opposed to the accord, which they describe as a "document of surrender."
The group has accused rival pro-accord group PCJSS of orchestrating the killing, which the PCJSS deny.
The UPDF enforced a daylong blockade on roads and waterways from early morning today in the district. It is demanding the arrest of the killers and the resignation of PCJSS chief Santu Larma as CHT Regional Council chairman.
The demonstration, which threatens to turn violent at any time, has spread alarm through the community of 1,500 Protestant and 500 Catholic Christians in the district.
“We fear more unrest and anarchy in the hills. UPDF has often threatened us to stop all kinds of religious activities and it will become desperate now,” said Birbadan Chakma, 32, Rangamati district head of the protestant Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship (BBCF).
Chakma added that UPDF often accused them of converting tribal Buddhists to Christianity. They deny that.
Chakma said that in 2009 some BBCF followers were beaten by UPDF activists and in 2010 a Church was burnt down when ethnic tribal people and Bengali settlers clashed.
Clinton Chakma, a protestant pastor, said he has stopped preaching as he was being threatened.
“They (UPDF activists) say that only Buddhists and tribal people can stay in the hills and others should go,” he said.
Father Elias Mondol who takes care of 500 Catholics at Church of St. Joseph in Rangamati said that he was dismayed by the recent killings but neither hen or local Catholics had been threatened by anyone and the situation was normal.
Media reports suggest Bangladesh's home ministry is ‘seriously considering’ imposing a ban on UPDF, accusing it of recent instabilities in the CHT which might compound the problems.
There are about 20,000 mostly ethnic tribal Christians among 1.5 million people in three hill districts.
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