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Hill tribe deaths spark panic in Bangladesh

Military claims three died in a shootout but there is an allegation they were detained before being killed

Hill tribe deaths spark panic in Bangladesh

An indigenous Tripura woman at her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh in January 2018. The deaths of three members of an armed political group has sparked panic among communities. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

Published: August 27, 2019 09:45 AM GMT

Updated: August 27, 2019 09:51 AM GMT

Three members of an armed tribal political group were killed in what the military claimed was a gunfight in the restive Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh, stoking panic among local communities.

The deaths occurred when a military patrol team reached Baradom area of Dighinala in Khagrachhari district on Aug. 26, Inter Services Public Relations, the military media wing, said in a statement.

Members of the United Democratic Peoples Front (UPDF) opened fire and the army retaliated, it said.

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After 10-15 minutes of exchanging fire, the UPDF men retreated, leaving behind the dead and a cache of weapons including two pistols with eight bullets and an American M4 automatic carbine with four rounds, the release said.

However, Angya Marma, the UPDF’s Khagrachhari district coordinator, alleged that the three members of the party were picked up by the military and then shot dead.

The Dhaka Tribune newspaper reported Marma as saying the state of the bodies showed that they had been summarily killed rather than dying in a firefight.

The shooting deaths come about a week after two military patrols came under attack from unidentified assailants in neighboring Rangamati district, which left a soldier dead and several injured.

But a security analyst suspected that rebels of the Arakan Army (AA), an insurgent outfit in neighboring Rakhine State of Myanmar, might have been behind those attacks.

The bodies of those killed on Aug. 26 were taken to a police station for autopsies to be carried out and a tense situation prevails in the area, according to Rownak Alam, assistant police superintendent in the district.

"Security has been tightened in the area as people are in a panic because there have been no incidents of shooting between insurgent outfits and the military in recent times," Alam told ucanews.com.

Holy Cross Father Liton Hubert Gomes, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, expressed frustration over the loss of life. "No killing can be justified, so there should be a proper probe into every shooting and killing," the priest told ucanews.com.

The failure to properly implement a 1997 Peace Accord, including the lack of a land dispute resolution, measures for social economic development and political empowerment of local communities, was fueling unrest, Father Gomes noted.

"The government has tried but failed to establish peace because contentious issues like land problems and tensions between indigenous ethnic groups and Bengali Muslim settlers continue," he added.

The complex socioeconomic and political living conditions of tribal people needed to be better understood so grievances could be addressed, the priest added.

The CHT, a forested and mountainous region in southeast of Bangladesh, is home to dozens of indigenous ethnic groups, mostly Buddhists but also some Christians.

Since the late 1970s, these ethnic communities have faced systematic destruction of their environment and their livelihood due to an influx of Bengali Muslims through state-sponsored internal migration programs.

The settlers were accused of grabbing land and properties of ethnic minorities, sparking sectarian violence.

Indigenous peoples formed a political party, Parbatya Chattogram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), and Shanti Bahini, a militia outfit, to resist and attack settlers.

In response, the government sent military personnel and for more than two decades a deadly bush war continued between the military and the insurgents. The conflict officially ended with the 1997 Peace Accord.

But a group of PCJSS members opposed the peace treaty and formed the UPDF to continue armed resistance.

Despite its natural beauty with lush forests, peace remains elusive in the CHT, where sectarian violence and fighting between rival political parties are rife. In the past two years, more than 60 people have died amid an escalation of violence in the region.


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