Panic has gripped the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) region after an apparently pre-planned military-style ambush that left seven people dead and around two dozens injured, with local security officials and politicians blaming mainly the infighting among four main tribal groups for the unrest.
After the split of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), criminal activities, including murders and kidnappings, increased in the scenic CHT, which draws a large number of foreign and local tourists around the year.Sources said two factions of PCJSS led by Shantu Larma and PCJSS MN Larma and Prasit Khisha-led UPDF group are active in the three hill districts -- Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban.
According to Intelligence sources, the groups possess arms like AK-22 automatic rifles, G3 rifles, MK11 rifles, AK-47, AK-56, M-6 rifles and 9mm pistols.
Sources said around 50 people including activists of the four rival groups were killed over the past 18 months in clashes among them for establishing supremacy in the areas and securing the share of the money extorted.
According to them, at least Tk 100 crore (1 billion) is extorted annually in the areas.
Security officials told the daily sun that a joint drive by Army, Border Guard Bangladesh, police and Ansar was underway to hunt down those behind the killings of the seven people on Monday.
The simmering unrest in the hill region came to light again after two separate incidents in Rangamati earlier this week creating widespread panic among the residents -- tribal and settler -- from the plains. The first was a premeditated army-style ambush of government officials and Ansar militias last Monday, while on the following day a ruling Awami League leader was gunned in an apparent targeted killing.The toll in the region, having cloud-touching hills, stood at 50 in 18 months, officials said.
Brig Gen M Hamidul Islam, Bangladesh Army’s Khagrachhari regional commander, said that law enforcement agencies had launched the joint drive soon after the attack.
“No one will be spared over the gun attack,” he added. Rangamati’s additional SP (Sadar) Sufi Ullah said extra security measures had been put in place to ward off further untoward incidents.
On March 18, unidentified gunmen in Rangamati shot dead seven people, including two polling officials and four Ansar personnel, after the end of the second phase of the Upazila election boycotted by one tribal group. At least 17 others were injured when the gunmen carried out the attack in Noi Mile area on Sajek-Khagrachhari Road. On March 19, an upazila Awami League president was shot dead right before his family in Rangamati.
Maruti, who is living in Ruilui Para of Sajek in Rangamati, told this correspondent: “After the gun killing of election officials we are passing our days in panic and fear.”
Most of the tourists cancelled their reservation with hotels in Sajek hill resort.
According to security sources sophisticated weapons have been entering the CHT from neighbouring Myanmar and India through the porous borders. The regional parties of CHT use such weapons to prove their supremacy, detectives in the area said.
Illegal toll collections by four regional political parties – Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) Santu group, Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) MN Larma group, United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) Prasit group, United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) democratic – in the three districts of the CHT is now an open secrets.
The four regional political groups in the three districts of the CHT collect at least Tk 100 crore every year from public, private sector workers, businessmen and residents of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari, according to intelligence sources. These groups and their front organisations have stocked large quantities of sophisticated weapons using collected toll money.
Around 10 thousand members of four regional political groups are active in CHT consist of three districts Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban, is one-tenth territory of the country’s total area.
According to sources, there are no border outposts (BOP) in the 85 kilometre area of CHT. As a result, weapons enter freely. After signing of the CHT peace agreement 334 security outposts were withdrawn leaving some 200 outposts currently to ensure peace in the region.