Welcome to our Website ... Support our fight against human rights violations in CHT .......... LATEST NEWS......... Unearthing the mystery of Sumon kidnapping in Bandarban..............

Unearthing the mystery of Sumon kidnapping in Bandarban

HWHRF Review: Issue-02, 3 August 2007

On 25 June Danish foreign development agency Danida’s Programme Officer Mr. Shahid Suman and his car driver Mr. Abu Hanif were kidnapped by a group of armed men from Khiburipara village under Thanchi Upazilla in Bandarban district of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The armed men introduced themselves as members of the People’s Party of Arakan, an armed militant group based in Myanmar. The kidnappers released Abu Hanif four days after abduction, while the Joint Forces “rescued” Suman 13 days later on 8 July. On 21 July at a press conference in Chittagong Mr. Suman claimed that he was kidnapped by “Pahari People’s Army”, a hitherto unheard group in CHT. Thankful to the Army, he further said, “when I got involved with politics during my student life, I was vocal for the withdrawal of the army from CHT. Now it seems to me that I was quite wrong.”

The fact that Shahid Suman has regained freedom, no matter by whichever ways, is a cause celebre. However it is impossible to unearth the mystery surrounding his abduction and subsequent release only by reading newspaper reports sitting hundreds of miles away in Dhaka and Chittagong. In order to comprehend the entire episode of the kidnapping drama, one must have sufficient knowledge about the general situation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, geographical condition of Bandarban, cross-border activities of the foreign armed groups and their relation with a vested interest group within the Bangladesh Army.

The possible objectives
To speak the truth in plain language, the kidnapping of Shahid Suman was preplanned. It was orchestrated by a vested interest group to achieve certain objectives. Two of these objectives are: a. to create an opportunity to focus the local NGOs in bad light and then crush them and b. to justify the continued presence of the army in CHT. Apparently, the vested interest group has achieved both. As the primary objectives have been achieved, the group will now use the kidnapping incident to vigorously push for land acquisition for military purposes. It needs to be mentioned that in addition to 37, 626.45 acres of land acquired since 1991 in Bandarban district, the army has been pushing for another 28,560 acres for the construction of training facilities for the Armed forces including a Para Commando and Aviation training centre in Ruma. The project, if implemented, will precipitate a human disaster displacing thousands of indigenous people’s families in the district.

Bandarban is a mountainous region bordering Arakan state of Myanmar. Many armed groups and sub-groups of Myanmar have bases in the area. It is still an enigma as to how these groups operate in the area despite huge presence of the Bangladesh army. The fact that these groups have camps adjacent to the army camps suggests that the army has acquiesced to their presence. The matter is an open secret in the area. Local people allege that relation between the Bangladesh army and the armed groups is quite good and that on many occasions the army has used these groups to “get certain jobs done.”

The fact:
In our attempt to analyze the incident, we must remember that Mr. Suman and Mr. Abu Hanif were not the targets of the armed gang. As reported in the media and corroborated by all present at the time of the incident, the gang members at first looked for foreigners and when no foreign citizen was found, they took Mr. Suman and Mr. Abu Hanif away. The village elders present there asked the gang members not to take the two guests away, but the terrorists put them down by pointing their guns at them. After the incident, the army rushed to the spot, detained all the NGO activists including another Danida programme officer Mr. Kirti Nishan Chakma and began issuing statements wrongly linking the NOGs with the kidnapping. In the name of rescue operation the army also detained local villagers, searched their houses and subjected many of them to inhuman physical torture. Mr. Suman was “rescued”, but the detained NGO workers and the innocent villagers are still languishing in Bandarban jail.

The fact of the incident is that Mr. Suman and Mr. Abu Hanif were kidnapped by an armed group in the name and style of Arakan Liberation Army or ALP. The newspapers blamed PPA (People’s Party of Arakan) for the kidnapping. Therefore, when Mr. Suman told the journalists at a press conference held in Chittagong after undergoing medical treatment at a military hospital that he was kidnapped by Pahari People’s Army, it came as a great surprise. No such party does really exist in the CHT and there is ample reason to believe that the name was invented by the army and pushed into the head of Mr. Suman during army custody to malign the Jumma people. It is true that some local youths, who had once worked for the NGOs but were discharged on various grounds including gross negligence of duties, helped the ALP members in the kidnapping. However, this does not in anyway prove the existence of the so-called Pahari People’s Army.

The mystery
The way Mr. Suman was “rescued” is also shrouded in mystery. It raised more questions than it answered. Immediately after the incident, a joint force of the army, BDR and police personnel backed by armoured helicopters, launched a massive hunt for the kidnappers. Borders with Myanmar were shielded so as to prevent the kidnappers from leaving Bangladesh. For thirteen days and nights the search went on without result. During this time the army built a helipad on a remote hill top. Curiously enough, the “rescue” thing was done on the fourteenth day after the construction of the helipad was completed. Yet more curious is the fact that Mr. Suman was rescued near the said helipad. The question is: why the joint forces have failed to even nab a single terrorist and why not a single terrorist was hurt or killed, when so much hullabaloo was created about the rescue mission?

Implicating the local NGOs
After the incident the representatives of the local NGOs held a press conference in Bandarban town. They denied their involvement in the kidnapping and protested the attempt of the army and the media to implicate their NGOs with the incident. But the press conference was completely blacked out.

Why such inimical behaviour towards the local NGOs? If we want a cogent answer to this question, we must take a look back. For the last few years a number of local NGOs have been carrying out development activities in Bandarban district with financial assistance of Danida. These development programmes include, among others, building consciousness among the Jumma people about their human and land rights. This specific programme became an eye sore of a vested quarter in the army and the government. The so-called Sama Odhikar Andolon, a military backed platform of the illegal settlers in CHT, launched a systematic propaganda and spread venomous hatred against the local NGOs, although it maintained complete silence about the national NGOs including BRAC, PROSHIKA and Grameen Bank operating in the CHT. The intensity of their hatred can be gauged from the imposition of a government ban on the holding of a seminar on land rights in Rangamati two years back. Some local NGOs were the organisers of this seminar.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many would believe, wrongly or rightly, that the kidnapping of Mr. Suman was stage managed. Some even suggest that a section in the army might have some sort of links with the incident and that the army had been in constant contact with the kidnappers via satellite phone.

Conclusion: The scapegoat
One does not suggest that the local NGOs are perfect. If there is any mismanagement in them, it is due mainly to their inexperience and lack of necessary skills in the field. NGO culture is still in its infancy in the CHT. It is not even remotely likely that the NGOs would have any hand behind the kidnapping, as it is against their immediate as well as long term interests.

Therefore, the above analysis boils down to one conclusion: Mr. Shahid Suman is merely a scapegoat of a devious blueprint to destroy the local NGOs, which are totally dependent on financial assistance of the western donors. An independent and impartial investigation of the incident will reveal the actual facts. Due to pervasive control over every aspect of public life in CHT and to the invisible censorships, facts cannot always come out of the CHT hills.



Similar News