By M.A. Athul
March 23, 2019
On March 18, 2019, seven people, including two election officials and four Ansar (paramilitary auxiliary force) personnel, were killed in a gun attack targeting a poll party at Noymile in the Rangamati District. The party was attacked when it was returning after holding elections at three polling centres for the Baghaichhari upazila (sub-district) seat in the Rangamati District in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) area.
Nation-wide upazila elections for 480 upazilas were declared on February 20, 2019, and the first phase was held on March 10 in 78 upazilas; the second phase on March 18 in 116 upazilas; the third fourth and fifth phases are slated to be held on March 24 (in 127upazilas), March 31 (in 122 upazilas) and July 18 (37 Upazillas), respectively.
Meanwhile, Sudarshan, the candidate of the M.N. Larma faction of the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS-M.N. Larma) and former Baghaichhari upazila chairman, has blamed the Santu Larma faction of PCJSS (PCJSS-Santu Larma) for the attack. He claimed, “Boro Rishi of Santu Larma’s JSS carried out the attack on people involved in government job after staging a boycott drama in the morning in realising defeat (sic).” He further alleged that the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF-Prasit) was also involved in the attack. However, both PCJSS-Santu Larma and UPDF-Prasit have denied the allegation.
Violent factionalism between the groups was visible in the run-up to the national elections held on December 30, 2018. In the months preceding, six UPDF (faction not identified) activists were killed. Another three had been killed in August, while two were killed in September 2018, and one in November. Though the attackers were not identified, reports indicated that they were killed due to factional rivalry.
CHT is spread across 13,189 square kilometres and consists of three Districts: Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban, and has a history of two decades of insurgency, between 1977 and 1997, over the ethnic tribals’ demand for autonomy and land rights. The insurgency terminated with the signing of 1997 CHT Peace Accord between the Government and the undivided PCJSS led by Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma aka Santu Larma. After the signing of the Accord, factionalism became rampant in PCJSS ranks. The first split came in 1997 itself, when Prasit Bikash Khisha formed UPDF-Prasit, after leaving PCJSS in protest against the Accord. The second split occurred in 2007, when a faction led by Sudha Sindho Khisa formed PCJSS-Reformation. The parent group split again, into PCJSS- M.N Larma and PCJSS-Santu Larma, in 2010.
In the meantime, UPDF also suffered a split with the formation of UPDF-Democratic, led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma aka Borma aka Jalwa in November 2017. The multiple splits have fuelled violence in the region. Indeed, since the signing of the Accord in 1997, around 600 people have been killed in the three Hill Districts in clashes mostly arising out of factionalism.
According to Rangmati Police and intelligence sources, yearly fatalities in CHT due to clashes between these groups were 22 in 2018. In 2017 and 2016 the fatalities stood at 18 and 23 respectively.
Moreover, according to locals of Rangamati and Khagrachhari, all four factions were involved in extortion from the wood trade, kitchen markets, cattle markets, transport and many others, each in their own turf, all the while fighting each other to gain more ground.
Additionally, more than 119 firearms, including AK-47’s and 3,200 rounds of ammunition were recovered by Security Forces (SFs) from CHT between January and November 2018. Between 2014 and November 2018, recoveries by the Police Force alone, in the region, amounted to 263 firearms, including AK-47s, AK-22s, and M-16s. Significantly, an ex-UPDF member disclosed that all these groups were armed with machine guns, Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), AK-47s, AK-22s, AK-56s and even Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs).
Significantly, the provisions of the 1997 CHT Peace Accord have not been effectively implemented. On November 30, 2018, PCJSS-Santu Larma President Santu Larma stated that even after 21 years of signing, although the Accord was signed to peacefully and politically solve the situation in CHT, only 25 out of 72 sections of the Accord have been fully implemented. He rejected the Government’s claim that 48 out of 72 sections had been fully implemented.
The current situation in CHT is a direct result of the lacklustre implementation of the Peace Accord. With violence moving to the epicentre in the local power dynamics of the region, further tit for tat violence is likely to persist. It is imperative for Dhaka to take immediate measures to effectively deal with the factional nature of power politics in the region and its strong nexus with criminal elements, even as the commitments of the 1997 Accord are fulfilled in good faith.
M.A. Athul is a Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
Source; South Asia Terrorism Portal