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Update on Sajek: situation yet to come to normal (First part)

News No. 110/2008, June 17, 2008

Nearly two months have passed since the 20 April Sajek attack that left 77 Jumma houses burnt to the ground, but the situation is yet to come back to normal.

Following is the first of the two-part series of the latest reports received from our sources in the area.

Sultana Kamal visits affected areas
On 18 May, a team of human rights activists led by Ms Sultana Kamal, Executive Director of Dhaka-based Ain-o-Salish Kendra, visited the place of occurrence. Her visit was known to the army and settlers well in advance, while the Jummas knew nothing about it.

The Commanding Officer of Baghaihat zone, Sajid Md. Imtiaz, briefed the settlers about how to deal with her visit. He, however, did not even bother to inform the affected Jummas about the visit. One Jumma villager commented: “this is such kind of mistrust and an unfair tilt towards the settlers that aggravate the situation here.”

As briefed, the settlers surrounded her team as soon as it reached Baghaihat. Ms. Kamal told them that she would talk to them later on at the bazaar and proceeded towards Gongaram Mukh. There she talked to the Jummas and distributed Nappi (a semi-dried fish-paste with powerful flavor), cloths and cash Taka 500 to each of the affected families. She also visited Banani Bana Vihar and talked to Rev. Purnabas Bhante.

She visited the burnt huts of the settlers and talked to the settlers at the bazaar. “I cannot just imagine how such an incident can occur in front of the army,” she has been quoted as saying. She gave five sacks of cloths and cash Taka 20 thousand to the settlers.

Attempt at resettlement under the rubric of “Peace and Development Committee”
On 22 May, using the influence of his position Lt. Col. Sajid Md. Imtiaz formed a so-called Peace and Development Committee comprising members of both the communities. The 13-member committee is headed by Rokon Uddin, a shopkeeper-trader in Baghaihat bazaar. The other members are Bipon Chakma, a former JSS member-turned trader (vice president); Nazim Uddin, drugstore owner, (Secretary); Rafiq, Gobinda Headman (Daney Baibachara), Kamini Ranjan Chakma (Daney Baibachara), Paran Chakma (Retkaba Doar), Gyana Ram Karbari (Gongaram Doar), Joti Lal Karbari (Gongaram Doar), Shneha Kumar Chakma (Guchchagram, Baghaihat), Hridoy Ranjan Dewan (Guchchagram, Baghaihat), Liton Chakma (Daney Baibachara) and Dhantu Chakma (Hajachara).

On 23 May, a meeting of the Peace and Development Committee was held at Sajek Union Council office. Rokon Uddin presided over the meeting attended by 20 – 25 persons including the committee members.

Speaking at the meeting, Gyana Ram Karbari, a member of the committee, said “There will be no peace in the area if the new settlers are not taken back. There is unrest because they are occupying our lands, building houses on our lands and destroying our orchards.”

He further said “if we speak the truth and protest against all these we are labeled as terrorists. This is the reason why many do not dare to speak out about the real problem.”

Nuru Islam, a grocery shop owner, who originally hails from Noakhali, said “I came to Baghaihat many years ago. There were only 10 -12 shops at that time. I also discharged the duty of the Bazaar Chowdhury (responsible for maintaining the market place). Back then, the Jummas used to cultivate jum on the hills near the bazaar and there was government patronization for that. It was in fact called plantation. The Parharis used to plant teak on their jums or plantations. When plantation activities were closed down, they began to settle down permanently. They built good houses and created orchards. Then, when from 8 January 2008 the new Bengalis began coming in and building houses after destroying the Pahari people’s orchards, the Paharis could not tolerate it.”

He continued: “Now, my question is: where these new comers (Bengalis) – who are in need of land – had been for so long? My view is that peace will never return in the area unless they are taken back.”

Before he could finish his speech, Golam Mowla impatiently interrupted him saying “there is no need to harp on old stories.” He made a proposal to settle the new comers on a vast area of land stretching between Gongaram Mukh and Mazalong bazaar. The Jummas vehemently rejected the proposal.

The Jummas also raised a few demands at the meeting. These included withdrawal of the new settlers, release of the three Jummas arrested from Bamey Baibachara, withdrawal of the cases filed against some Jummas of the affected areas, return of the looted goods and rehabilitation of the affected Jummas.

The Bengali representatives at the meeting agreed to, and later returned, the looted valuables to 4 or 5 Jummas. The remaining valuables of two other Jummas have been entrusted to the market committee, which has asked them to contact it and take their belongings back.

At the said meeting Golam Mawla also claimed that 40 Jummas have sold lands to the Bengalis. But the Jumma representatives brushed aside his claim and asked him to show papers in support of his claim.

“I do not put someone to jail, I shoot him”
On 24 May, the Second-in-Command of Baghaihat zone, Major Anwarul Kabir sent a note to Sunesh Bikash Chakma aged 32 of village Gongaram Mukh ordering him to appear before him in the camp. When he appeared, Major Anwarul Kabir told him: “I have reports that you have become a leader in Gongaram Mukh and provide supplies to the terrorists. Listen, I do not put someone to jail; I shoot him. Therefore, I warn you to be careful from now on.”

When asked what did he think prompted the Major to issue such threats, Sunesh Chakma told chtnews.com that “On 20 April, the day the arson took place, I saw some military personnel and Bengali settlers set fire to my house and I told this to the media persons. This might have infuriated the military.”

chtnews.com is an independent and voluntary online news service dedicated to projecting and analyzing the current events in the Chittagong Hill Tracts from the perspective of the Jumma people’s struggle for right to self-determination. For further information please contact at: chtnewsonline@gmail.com

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