Courtesy: The New Age, Dhaka, 30 June 2010
FEBRUARY ETHNIC VIOLENCE
CHT watchdog wants
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission on Tuesday urged the government to institute a high-level independent investigation of the arson attacks and killings in Baghaihat of Rangamati and in Khagrachari town in February 19-23 this year.
The watchdog comprising rights defenders from both home and abroad came up with a series of recommendations after their week-long tour of Khagrachari and Rangamati hill districts to ascertain what actually had happened during the February disturbances and identify the factors underlying them.
The commission also called for thoroughly examining the allegations that the acts of violence had taken place in the presence of security forces and law enforcement personnel and bringing persons responsible to book.
It recommended that security and proper rehabilitation of the affected people be ensured and that they should be provided with due compensation. It called for ensuring freedom of expression for all, including citizens’ groups, journalists and the victims and witnesses of these violent incidents; and for taking steps to prevent any forms of intimidation or suppression of the voices, views, and forms of non-violent protest by the hill people.
The commission found disputes over Baghaihat market as a factor for the February violence and asked the government to take adequate measures to remove the difficulties faced by the hill people in the market and encourage them to participate in the market of their own volition, rather than being forced to do so. It called for stopping settlement by Bengali migrants along Baghaihat-Sajek road ‘with the tacit support of the military and civil authorities.’
The commission emphasised immediate amendment to the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001 as per provisions of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts accord and implementation of the recommendations made by the regional council. It said all future decisions of the land commission should be made with the hill leaders’ consent.
It also stressed the need for phased withdrawal of temporary military camps in the region in accordance with the CHT deal to reduce the extent of ‘undue military control and resultant tensions’ in order to restore normalcy in the region.
The commission delegation comprising Shapan Adnan, Meghna Guhathakurta, Tom Eskildsen, Christina Nilsson and Hana Shams Ahmed visited Khagrachari and Rangamati in June 18-24.
They observed that the arson attacks of February 2010 were nothing new but the latest in a series of such incidents. ‘Construction of a metalled road has been undertaken under the auspices of army engineers from Baghaihat towards the Sajek valley in the remote interior. Allegations have been made that ethnic minorities living on both sides of the road would be evicted and Bengali settlers would be placed on their lands.
This apprehension was corroborated by the accelerated pace of Bengalis in migration and construction of their settlements on lands used by ethnic minorities during the rule of the military-backed interim government when the army operated with a free hand,’ said the report which had been sent to the prime minister.