CHT Peace Treaty: A chase of an illusion!

Dhaka, Mar 6: Any peace deal is always a welcome move as it is extremely necessary for prosperity. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is such a deal signed two decades ago, but peace still remains miles away due to criminal activities like killing and extortion. Communities living in the region are trying to rebuild their lives leaving behind all the despair but fears and conflicts put them back. The violence unleashed by armed groups kills people and destroys the prospect of peace.
Four armed groups — Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS-Santu Larma), Jana Sanghati Samiti (Reformist-MN Larma), United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) and UPDF (Democratic)– have been at loggerheads for establishing supremacy.
Sources in the three hill districts and intelligence agencies said the armed groups often lock into clashes claiming the lives of both ‘Pahari’ and Bengali settlers and hampering development activities in the region.
Killings in 3 hill districts
At least 42 people were killed allegedly by the PCJSS (Santu) group till June 2020 from January 2019, according to a study conducted by CHT Research Foundation (CHTRF).
The study report says 15 people were killed each in Khagrachhari and Bandarban districts, while 12 in Rangamati district during the period.
Among the 15 people killed in Khagrachhari district, seven were members of PCJSS (Reformists) and eight others involved in election-related activities, while four activists of Awami League, six of PCJSS (Reformist), two MNP and three tribal people were killed in Banglarban.
Among those killed in the Rangamati district, five were Awami League men, one PCJSS-Reformist, three MNP, one UPDF (Democratic), one PCJSS (Santu) and one tribal man.
Samar Bijay Chakma, 38, a union Parishad member of Ward No. 1 under the Rupkari Union, was shot dead inside the project implementation officer’s room of Baghaichhari Upazila in Rangamati on February 24. The victim was also a member of Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma).
In a statement, Joshi Chakma, general secretary of Baghaichhari JSS (MN Larma), blamed the PCJSS (Santu Larma) for the killing, an allegation denied by the PCJSS.
Besides, Naniarchar Upazila Chairman Shaktiman Chakma was shot dead on the premises of the Upazila Parishad office on May 3, 2018. Shaktiman Chakma, who was also a leader of Jana Sanghati Samiti (MN Larma), was shot dead while entering his office.
On May 4, at least 5 people were also killed in an armed attack on their way to the funeral of Shaktimaan Chakma. The deceased included the top leaders of UPDF Democratic Tapan Jyoti Barma, Sujon Chakma, Setulal Chakma and their car driver Sajib.
In another incident, Bachnu Marma, 55, President of Awami League’s Rajbali Union Ward No.7 unit, was gunned down at Jamchhari Bazar of Bandarban Sadar Upazila on February 22 last year.
Besides, Usui Prue Marma, Jubo League Vice President of Ward No 3 of Chitmarm Union of Kaptai Upazila, was killed after he was called out from his home in the Headman Para area in Rangamati on April 1, 2020.
Sources at the local intelligence agencies blamed PCJSS (Santu Larma) group for the above incidents.
The activists of PCJSS (Santu) group are killing their rivals one after another in broad daylight, said a senior officer of an intelligence agency.
The aim of the PCJSS (Santu) party is to establish dominance by creating fear and panic among people in the area, the intelligence officer said preferring anonymity.
Contacted, CHTRF Chairman Mehedi Hasan Palash said, “The bloodshed was supposed to end in the region with the signing of the peace deal, but it has not been possible because of Shantu Larma as the armed group of PCJSS didn’t surrender all the weapons.”
Contacted, a political leader of Rangamati district, said the armed groups, especially PCJSS (Santu), want to ensure their control over the highlands keeping the common people in fear, aiming to implement their latent desire to establish independent ‘Jumland’.
“We’ll see more killings in the mountains in the near future if the armed groups keep equipping themselves. As a citizen of an independent country, are the hill people have to remain hostage to them?” he questioned.
The political leader, who preferred anonymity, urged the law enforcement and security forces and local administration to take immediate action against these gunmen, he said adding “Bring back peace in the mountains. Save the common people from the hands of PCJSS (Santu) armed group.”
When his attention was drawn to the killing of union Parishad member Samar Bijay Chakma of Rangamati district, Superintendent of Police (SP) of the district Mir Modasser Hossain said police are investigating the killings.
“We’re trying to find out facts over the murder. We hope we can arrest the culprits involved in the killing,” the SP of Rangamati district said.
Armed groups in CHT
The PCJSS was formed in 1972. But a group of ethnic minority people, led by Prasit Bikash Khisa, formed the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) in 1998 opposing the peace treaty after the PCJSS had signed the peace deal with the then Awami League government, led by Sheikh Hasina, ending over two decades of tribal insurgency and bloodletting in the hill districts.
The PCJSS also faced a split as some of its members quit it in 2007 and formed PCJSS (Reformists) led by Sudha Sindho Khisa. UPDF’s another armed group also formed a separate platform the UPDF (Democratic), led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma (alias Borma and Jalwa) on November 15, 2017.
On December 2, 1997, PCJSS (Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samity) signed the peace deal with the then-Awami League government.
Then Chief Whip of parliament Abul Hasnat Abdullah signed the deal on behalf of the government while Joritindra Bodhipriyo Larma (Santu Larma) signed on behalf of PCJSS.
The main objective of the historic treaty was to establish peace in the hilly region and ensure the country’s progress.
One of the major conditions of the deal was to develop the three hill districts — Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban –as tourism hotspots. But this cannot be properly implemented due to the opposition of the anti-peace treaty groups, officials said.