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Gamaridhala Land Grabbing

On 29 January 2006 Bengali settlers from Nunchari cluster village under Mahalchari upazila in Khagrachari district directly protected by army from Mahalchari zone and Bijitala sub-zone camps started to construct houses on the recorded lands of Jumma people at Gamaridhala village under Khagrachari sadar upazila. By 20 March 2006 the Bengali settlers completed construction of above 115 houses and occupied around 100 acres of lands. The army continues operation against the Jumma people in Gamaridhala and Bijitala areas for which almost all the male persons have left their houses and villages for avoiding arrest and tortures. 1. Background: Between 1979 and 1982 the government of Bangladesh settled 110 families of Bengali outsiders (non-indigenous political migrants) on the lands recorded in the name of the Jumma people of Gamaridhala mouza under Khagrachari sadar. Owing to security reason and protest from the actual owners of lands the local army and civil authorities closed the Bengali settlers (non-indigenous political migrants) in the Nunchari cluster village under Mahalchari upazila of Khagrachari district later.

As soon as Abdul Wadood Bhuiyan won the MP election in October 2001 and the sitting alliance assumed power in the country expansion of settlements of Bengali settlers as well as fresh political migration of Bengali outsiders intensified.

In order to implementing the plan for forcible land grabbing and fresh expansion of settlements of Bengali settlers along with fresh migration of Bengali settlers from other districts to CHT Abdul Wadood Bhuiyan, MP initiated a move in May 2005 for allotment of food grains for additional 28,000 families by the government.

On 28 December 2005 as a part to the same move a four-member team of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the CHT Affairs Ministry headed by Md. Shahjahan, MP from Jamat-E-Islam paid a visit to some cluster villages in Khagrachari district. The team reportedly known to have their opinion positive for allotment of food grains for additional number of Bengali settlers.

It is notable that as per the CHT Accord of 1997 the government was to make a law and form a commission for settlement of land disputes created out of political migration of Bengali settlers to CHT. The government did not do it until now. On the contrary, the government continues following the policy of outnumbering the Jumma people in the region and making the region stronghold of the terrorists of the Islamic fundamentalists.

2. Commencement of Construction of houses and forcible land grabbing:

On 29 January 2006 Bengali settlers from Nunchari cluster village under Mahalchari upazila in Khagrachari district directly protected by army from Mahalchari zone and Bijitala sub-zone camps started to construct houses on the recorded lands of Jumma people at Gamaridhala village under Khagrachari sadar upazila. The Jumma villagers, who were owners of lands lodged complains against it to the local army authorities including the Region Commander of Khagrachari Region and civil administration, such as, UNO (Upazila Nirbahi Officer) of Mahalchari upazila and DC (Deputy Commissioner) of Khagrachari district. But it yielded no positive result. On the contrary, Lt. Colonel Shamsuddin (alias Shams), Zone Commander of Mahalchari zone and Major Bashir Ahmed Chowdhury of Bijitala sub-zone of 32 EBR (East Bengal Regiment) deployed several patrolling groups in the area for providing security to the Bengali settlers, who were engaged in constructing houses and carrying necessary materials.

3. Perpetrators:

The main perpetrators for fresh expansion of the settlement at Gamaridhala were, in fact, Mr. Abdul Waddod Bhuiyan, MP from Khagrachari and Chairman of the CHT Development Board and the local army authorities in Khagrachari district. The other perpetrators from the Nunchari cluster village of the Bengali settlers were- 1) Md. Ismail Fakir (60)- leader
2) Md. Ahad (UP member)
3) Md. Mostafa (33)
4) Md. Matiur Rahman (41)
5) Md. Alaluddin
6) Md. Yaqub Ali Bahar
7) Md. Ruhul Amin.
Md. Ismail Fakir stated to the Jumma people that they had started construct houses with the consent of ruling BNP leaders, civil administration and military forces. He threatened to commit communal attack and to lodge cases against the local Jumma leaders. The other openly active perpetrators from the army under Khagrachari army region were-
1) Lt. Colonel Shamsuddin (alias Shams), Zone Commander of Mahalchari zone and
2) Major Mashir Ahmed Chowdhury of Bijitala sub-zone of 32 EBR (East Bengal Regiment).

4. Appeal:

Since 29 January 2006 Jumma people of Gamaridhala village placed their appeals to all concerned local authorities of military and civil administration. On 5 February 2006 the local indigenous Jumma people of Gamaridhala area headed by Mr. Pritibindu Dewan, Chairman of Khagrachari union, as a last attempt for peaceful solution, submitted a written memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district on the matter as well as urged for resolution of the dispute. But they received no positive response.
The copy of it was sent to Prime Minster, Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on CHT Accord Implementation, Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on CHT Affairs Ministry, Chairman of CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission, Chairman of CHT Regional Council, Deputy Minister of CHT Affairs Ministry, Chairman of the Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Jumma Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 24th Infantry Division, Commissioner of Chittagong Division, Chairman of Khagrachari Hill District Council, Region Commander of Khagrachari Region, Superintendent of Police (SP) of Khagrachari district, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Khagrachari upazila and Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Khagrachari police station.

5. Protest:

The Jumma people failed to draw attention of the government authorities to have settlement of the dispute peacefully. So, they, finding no other alternatives, decided to go on protests. On 6 February 2006 the local Jumma people of Gamaridhala area, held dawn-to-dusk road blockade programme on Khagrachari-Mahalchari-Rangamati road at there village on the following demands: · To dismantle the houses of the NIPM (Bengali settlers);
· To return back the NIPM to their cluster village;
· To stop forcible land grabbing by NIPM.
On 12-18 February 2006 the Jumma villagers organised road blockade programme in Khagrachari. PCJSS and Khagrachari District Citizen Forum supported it.
It is notable that Bengali settlers of the said Nunchari cluster village with security protection of army tried to occupy these lands in October 2004. As the Jumma people opposed it tremendously so the Zone Commander of Mahalchari army zone returned them back to their cluster village at that time.
He ordered verbally that until and unless CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission resolved disputes none should construct houses on the said plots of land. Jumma villagers, in spite of being legitimate owners, obeyed it. But Bengali settlers for the second time started grabbing the same plots of lands on 31 December 2004. Once again they were taken back by the same army authority. During the recent and third time drive, which started since 29 January 2006 is still continuing.

4. Counter steps:

In order to suppressing the movement of the indigenous Jumma people the army authorities in Khagrachari took the following steps: · Following the road blockade programme, on 12 February 2006 at night the army led by Lt. Colonel Shamsuddin (alias Shams) of Mahalchari zone and Major Bashir Ahmad Chowdhury of Bijitala sub-zone of 32 EBR conducted operation at Gamaridhala area.

· On 13 February early morning the army summoned Mr. Sajai Marma, Chairman of Maischari union and Mr. Nilotpal Khisa, Lecturer of Panchari College to the camp and threatened them to face severe consequences.

· On 13 February mid-night a group of army took Mr. Sushil Jiban Chakma, UP Member of ward no. 9 of Khagrachari union from his house at Gamaridhala village to the local primary school. The army interrogated him there about PCJSS members and Mr. Pritibindu Dewan, Chairman of Khagrachari union, who led the road blockade programmes.

· The Bengali settlers protected by army patrol parties at day and night continued constructing houses and by 18 February 2006 completed making 50 houses.

· The army threatened of taking severe action against Priti Bindu Dewan, Chairman of Khagrachari union, if he was apprehended.

5. Negotiations:

· On 15 February Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district held a meeting with local public representatives, political leaders, civil and military officials and local journalists on the issue. The civil administration, the army authority and the leaders of NIPM pushed to resolve the problem to the court. But Jumma people opposed it for they experienced negative outcome for any progress in resolution of land disputes related to NIPM during the post CHT Accord period at Lemuchari (Kutting Tilla), Pakujyachari, Maischari Joysen Para, Saiuprue Karbari Para, Badanala areas through legal procedure. Lower courts in CHT headed by UNOs and DC of Khagrachari district were not neutral and free from military interference. With this backdrop, Jumma people demanded to take urgent action for returning back the NIPM to their cluster village by civil and army authority. As a result, the meeting was ended without any concrete decision.

· On 18 February 2006 Region Commander of Khagrachari army region held talks with Mr. Sudhasindu Khisa, Member and Raktotpal Tripura, Member of the CHT Regional Council and Mr. Santoshita Chakma Bakul, General Secretary of Khagrachari District Citizen Forum to resolve this problem. The Zone Commanders of Mahalchari and Khagrachari zones and one G-2 of Khagrachari brigade attended it. In this meeting, decision was taken to take back the NIPM to their previous locations and to resolve other land disputes, such as, land dispute related to Buddha Shishughar, an orphanage through a local committee.

· Following this decision, local Jumma people withdrew road blockade programme on 18 February 2006.

· On 20 February 2006 Major Bashir Ahmed Chowdhury of Bijitala sub-zone of 32 EBR held a meeting with local leaders of Jumma people and Bengali settlers. Among others Mr. Pritibindu Dewan, Chairman of Khagrachari union; Mr. Kshetra Mohan Roaza, Headman of Nunchari mouza; Mr. Dhruba Ranjan Chakma, Headman of Gamaridhala mouza and Mahalchari Zone Commander were present. In the meeting an 11-member Committee was formed with leaders from Jumma people and Bengali settlers and Pritibindu Dewan, Chairman of Khagrachari Union Parishad was made president and Md. Ahad Vice-President.

The meeting discussed about implementation of the decisions adopted in the meeting of 18 February at Khagrachari Region Office for taking back the Bengali settlers to their Nunchari cluster village and dismantling the houses made at Gamaridhala. But the resolution was drafted that the Bengali settlers would be taken back to their cluster village but they would have right to cultivate the plots they occupied at Gamaridhala. So, Jumma leaders rejected the resolution.
· On 28 February Commander of Bijitala sub-zone again called a meeting with Jumma leaders mentioned above and NIPM leaders and compelled them to sign on the resolution written by the army authority for settlement of the land dispute through allotment of lands to the Bengali settlers in the area.

6. Latest development:

· On 4 March 2006 at night around 11.00 p.m. a group of army led by Major Bashir Ahmed Chowdhury commander of Bijitala sub-zone camp under Mahalchari army zone of Khagrachari Region in Khagrachari district rounded up some villages of Gamridhala and Bijitala in Khagrachari district. The army arrested innocent villagers from their homes obviously to suppress the movement for resolution of forcible land grabbing in the area. The victims were-: 1) Mr. Kamala Ranjan Chakma (45), s/o Late Buddha Mani Chakma of village Bijitala,
2) Mr. Priti Jiban Chakma (30), s/o Chiring Chakma of village 2 No. Prokalpa Gram,
3) Mr. Aung Kya Marma (30), s/o Ni Sai Marma of village 2 No. Prokalpa Gram,
4) Mr. Kala Marma (33), s/o PaTu Marma of village 2 No. Prokalpa Gram,
5) Mr. Banshi Chakma, s/o Surendra Chakma of Rubber Bagan,
6) Mr. Sushil Kanti Chakma alias Banamali (46), s/o Harishchandra Chakma of Rubber Bagan.
The said persons were beaten severely. Then they were sent to the police custody with false cases. Among them Mr. Sushil Chakma received injuries precariously and admitted to the Khagrachari Sadar Hospital on 4 March.
· On 5 March 2006 at around 3 p.m. another group of army led by captain Zahid took away Mr. Sushil Chakma alias Banamali and Mr. Kamala Ranjan Chakma from the police custody at the Khagrachari District Court premise and took photo of them giving them an arm (country-made gun). Local journalists and lawyer witnessed the incident. Khagrachari District Bar Association protested this incident and issued a press release signed by Advocate Ashutosh Chakma, General Secretary of the Bar Association.
· On 6 March 2006 the Jumma people called for strike for indefinite period. But they postponed it on 7 March until Secondary School Certificate Examination was over in the district in April 2006. · On 7 March 2006 at night a group army of Mahalchari zone conducted operation at Lemuchari village under Khagrachari sadar upazila. During the operation, the army tried to arrest following innocent persons from their houses of Lemuchari village. But Ms. Arun Bala Chakma w/o late Sona Ranjan Chakma opposed it. Consequently the army brought a group of police from Mahalchari police station and with the help of police they arrested them. They were:
1) Mr. Bibaran Chakma (35) s/o late Sibhash Chandra Chakma
2) Mr. Shanti Mani Chakma (17) s/o Gopal Kanti Chakma
3) Mr. Nanakya Chakma (17) s/o late Sona Ranjan Chakma
They were taken into Mahalchari police station. The following women namely Ms. Niga Chakma (35) w/o Sona Ratan Chakma, Ms. Kanika Chakma (32) w/o Sugata Chakma and Ms. Arun Bala Chakma (32) s/o late Sona Ranjan Chakma also rushed police station. Due to tremendous pressure, the police released arrested villagers on 8 March.
· On 9 March 2006 at mid-night Mr. Sanghamitra Chakma s/o Dinendra Chakma of Pakujyachari village of Lemuchari was arrested by the army of Mahalchari zone. He was produced to the court on following day (10 March) with a country-made arm. In fact, no arm was found during his arrest. He is an innocent villager and illiterate. He might be arrested, as his father Mr. Dinendra Chakma is Headman of Lemuchari mouza.
· The army continues operation against the Jumma people in Gamaridhala and Bijitala areas for which almost all the male persons have left their houses and villages for avoiding arrest and tortures.
· Till 10 March 2006 the Bengali settlers completed construction of above 70 houses and the army continues patrolling for providing security for them. By 20 March 2006 the Bengali settlers completed making 115 above houses.

· The Bengali settlers protected by the army have been continuing forcible land grabbing throughout Chittagong Hill Tracts including Khagrachari sadar, Mahalchari, Dighinala and Panchari upazilas.

————————————————————————————————————————— Published on 20 March 2006 by Information and Publicity Department of PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti) from Kalyanpur, Rangamati-4500, Chittagong Hill Tract, Bangladesh, Tel+Fax: +880-351-61248, E-mail: pcjss.org at gmail.com, pcjss at hotmail.com



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