A group of indigenous people work in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in this 2014 file photo. The CHT is home to indigenous tribes who have been fighting against an influx of Bengali Muslims and land grabbing for decades. (ucanews.com photo)
A group of Bengali Muslim settlers attacked a Protestant church in a remote area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and attempted to rape two indigenous Christian students, a pastor said.
A dozen or so people stormed the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Khagrachhari district on the night of May 10, said Stephen Tripura, the church pastor.
"They stormed into the church after kicking and smashing in the door. They attempted to rape my sister and niece who live there by tearing off their clothes. After hearing their cries, local Christians rushed over to help and the attackers fled," Tripura, an indigenous Tripura told ucanews.com.
"My sister and niece moved here to get an education but now they are traumatized," he said.
The pastor said the local church does not have any problem with local Muslims but suspected the attack might have stemmed from a land dispute.
"I have been working here for two years and there has been no problem with Muslims. However, I came to know that there was an unresolved land dispute between the church and the Muslims. I suspect that might be behind the attack," he added.
The church authority filed a complaint but not a criminal case. "We didn't file a case for fear of angering local Muslims further and inviting more violence," Tripura said.
Mizanur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Dighinala police station brushed off accusations of sectarianism.
"We visited after the incident and it doesn't seem to be a communal or church attack, rather a personal issue. Nonetheless, we are concerned about the security of the church as we are for all religious worship places," Rahman told ucanews.com.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts, comprised of three hilly and forested districts, is the only mountainous region of Bangladesh and home to over 12 indigenous tribes who are mostly Buddhist but some are Christians.
Tensions have brewed there since the 1970s when the government started changing the local demography by resettling landless Bengali Muslims there by grabbing indigenous land. Indigenous people resisted the influx and formed a militia group to fight back.
The government responded by turning the area into a military zone leading to two decades of guerrilla warfare, which ended with a peace accord in 1997. To this day, the region is heavily militarized with some 500 army camps and, from time-to-time, the military has been accused of abuse.