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Bengali settlement resumes in Khagrachari

HWHRF Review: Issue-03, August 12, 2007

Different sources said taking advantage of the state of emergency now
in force in the country, the civil and military establishment in
Chittagong Hill Tracts have resumed the programme of Bengali
settlement in different parts of Khagrachari district.

Sources said, in the last week of July high military officials in
Khagrachari met with District Awami League and BNP leaders in a
meeting at Brigade headquarters. Ultra communalists like Joynal
Abedin, chairman of Khagrachari Municipality, leader of so-called Sama
Odhikar Andolon and a close aide to jailed ex-MP Abdul Waddud Bhuiyan,
and Zahedul Alam, General Secretary of Khagrachari branch of AL, among
others, were present at the meeting. They discussed the settler issue
and decided to begin settlement expansion. The military officers urged
both the AL and BNP leaders to shun mutual political bickering and
work for the common interest of the Bengalis in CHT.

The decision is now being implemented in all seriousness as is evident
from the following reports gleaned by HWHRF:

a. The district administration of Khagrachari is trying to settle a
total of 834 Bengali families in Sadhana Tila in Babuchara Union under
Dighinala Thana. In the 1979 and 1980 the government settled 812
Bangali families on this patch of land displacing many Jummas. Due to
armed insurrection of the now defunct Shanti Bahini guerrillas in the
mid-fifties, the government was forced to withdraw the settlers from
there and distributed them in different places of Dighinala including
Merung. Now the government is making effort to resettle the Bengali
families on this land with the help of the army. If the plan is
implemented, a Buddhist temple – Sadhana Tila Bana Vihar – will be
destroyed, hundreds of other Jumma families adjacent to the area will
face the danger of being evicted and communal tension and conflict
over land will rise dramatically.

b. In the first week of this month, about two hundred Bengali settlers
forcibly occupied five acres of arable land belonging to a Jumma in
Betchari of Merung and sowed paddy on it.

c. In Rengkarjya of Merung, the settlers grabbed three thousand acres
of hilly land belonging to the Jummas and built houses on it. They are
now trying to create tea plantation in the grabbed land.

d. The settlers have illegally occupied about 26 acres of land
belonging to Boalkhali Buddhist Temple and Orphanage in Dighinala,
built houses on it and settled down. The settlers said they would not
leave the land.

e. It has been learnt from reliable sources that the government is
planning to settle 18 thousand Bengali families on a vast area of land
stretching from Dhanpatar Tila, north of Babuchara in Dighinala, to
Naraichari bordering Tripura state of India. In order to implement the
plan, a new road from Babuchara to Naraichari will be constructed
soon. The plan, if implemented, will bring about a total ecological
disaster to the area: the life and livelihood of hundreds of Jumma
families will come under direct threat, the Maine Reserve forest will
be destroyed and the endangered species of birds and wild animals will
be extinct.

f. Bengali settlement works in Dewanpara, adjacent to Alutial of
Khagrachari, and in a hilly land belonging to Mr. Konishka Chakma, a
Jumma physician, is now in the final phase.
h. The settlers have already occupied illegally hundreds of acres of
land in Maischari under Mahalchari Thana in Khagrachari district. The
area has been one of the scenes of savage settler attacks on Jumma
people before the state of emergency was declared on 11 January this
year.

The plan of the government to resume expansion of Bengali settlement
in CHT comes amid ruthless repression on Jumma activists including
UPDF and JSS unleashed immediately after the takeover of the
military-driven caretaker government of Dr. Fakruddin Ahmed. Since the
state of emergency came into force on 11 January, dozens of Jumma
political activists and NGO workers including a Jumma refugee leader
have been detained, most of them without charge. Those who voiced
strong opposition to the land grabbing spree have become the special
target of the joint forces, which by now have unleashed a reign of
terror in the CHT. It is precisely this reason that Mr. Ranglai
Murung, the most outspoken spokesperson of his community, was arrested
in Bandarban on 23 February. Mr Ranglai was opposed to a government
plan to grab land belonging to the Murung nationality for military
purposes. He has been tried in a kangaroo court and sentenced to 7
years in jail.

The decision to expand settlement in CHT is a violation of the
fundamental human rights of the Jumma people. It also contravenes the
provisions of the so-called peace treaty signed between the Jana
Samhati Samiti and the government of Bangladesh in 1997. The plan is
bound to heighten pestering communal tension in the area and also has
the potential to incite the settlers to mount virulent attacks on the
Jummas.

Therefore, in order to pre-empt any settler-related violence in the
CHT, the international community and especially the European Union,
international human rights organisations and democratic, peace-loving
and conscientious people around the world must intervene with the
government of Bangladesh. It becomes all the more urgent since under
state of emergency all kinds of political activities are now banned in
the country.

………………………………………
Hill Watch Human Rights Forum provides accurate, objective and
reliable information on human rights abuses in the Chittagong Hill
Tracts. For further details contact: hwhrf_99@yahoo.com or
hwhrf.cht@gmail.com



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