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Bangladesh

Forest tree clearance 'threatens Christian community'

Activists vow to halt Bangladeshi government plan to fell trees near nature reserve rail tracks, help Khasia tribals

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

Published: June 30, 2016 10:15 AM GMT

Updated: June 30, 2016 10:17 AM GMT

Forest tree clearance 'threatens Christian community'

Bangladeshi tribal woman wearing traditional clothing at a rally in Dhaka in this file photo. A government move to cut down thousands of trees in a national forest reserve in northeastern Bangladesh threatens the environment and the livelihoods of an indigenous community of living there. (Photo by AFP)

Environmentalists and rights activists have vowed to try and halt a government move to cut down thousands of trees in a national forest reserve in northeastern Bangladesh.

They said the move threatens the environment and the livelihoods of a Christian community living in the reserve.

The Bangladesh Railway department wants to cut down 25,000 trees in the Lawachhara reserve forest in Moulvibazar district.

Railway officials said the department wanted to ensure safe rail communication along a five-kilometer stretch of track that runs through the forest. Clearing trees near the tracks will prevent accidents caused by trees falling across the railway line, they said.

Activists said felling such large number of trees would jeopardize environment and biodiversity of the forest as well as threaten survival of hundreds of indigenous Christian Khasia tribal people living in a nearby village.

A local source said about 400 trees, which were used by 50 Khasia families used for collecting betel leaves, had already been cut down

Betal leaves are the primary source of income for the Khasia people.

"Khasia people are counting a heavy financial loss over the felling of trees and it will worsen if more trees are cut down," local journalist Mintu Deshwara told ucanews.com.

They are silent on the issue as they live on government-leased land within the forest and fear being evicted in retaliation, Deshwara said.

"That proved to be the fate of Khasia villagers living in other villages," he said.

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A train passes through Lawachhara National Reserve Forest in Moulvibazar district of northeastern Bangladesh in this file. Activists are opposing a move by the Bangladesh railways department to cut down 25,000 trees along the railway tracks in the forest for safe rail communication. (Photo by Pervez Robin)

 

Environmentalists and rights groups have been protesting against the tree felling. On June 28, hundreds of people formed a human chain in the nearby town of Sreemangal calling for it to be stopped.

"We can’t accept the felling of trees because threatens the lives of hundreds of indigenous people," said Sanjeeb Drong, secretary-general of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, a leading rights body for indigenous peoples.

"Railway authorities can make tracks safe by shifting tracks out of the forest, but they are not interested. It seems the move is a ploy to make big business by selling the timber," said Drong, an indigenous Garo Catholic.

Drong said larger protests are planned to and try and stop the felling.

M.A. Matin, secretary-general of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bangladesh Environment Movement), a leading environmentalist group echoed the call.

"Nowhere in the world is public transportation allowed through reserve forests. But here, it exists and it has caused the deaths many wild animals on railway tracks. For more than 10 years, we have appealed to the government to move the tracks out of the forest, but we have been ignored," Matin, told ucanews.com.

"We have always fought for the environment and rights of indigenous people and we will continue to do so," he added.

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