Vol. 4 Num 223 Sat. January 10, 2004  

Garo movement will continue till demands met, their leader says
'Scrap Eco Park project, give long term lease of forest lands to Garos'

The indigenous Garo people in Modhupur forest will continue their movement till the government scraps the Eco Park project there and fulfils their other demands.

"The simple Garo people have lost confidence on the authorities", Ajoy Mree, President of Modhupur Adibasi Unnayan Parishad, told The Daily Star during a recent visit to the area.

"They (authorities) had stopped the wall construction work in July last year and the people believed in their words. But they attempted to build it again this year", he said.

"This government wants to evicted the indigenous people from their ancestral homes", he said.

Albart Mankin, another Garo loader, said, "We have learnt from the Modhupur tragedy that the authorities want to evicted the indigenous people.

"This movement is for our existence, we will not back out till our five-point demand is met".

Besides scrapping of the project, their demands include punishment of the killers of Garo youth Piren Slan, withdrawal of cases against Garo youths, transfer of the Deputy Commissioner and the Police Superintendent of Tangail and long-term lease of forest lands to Garo tribesmen.

Piren was shot dead on Saturday last when police and forest guards fired on tribesmen protesting construction of a boundary wall of the proposed Eco Park.

The government has planned development of an Eco Park under a Tk nine crore National Park Development Project on about 3000 acres of land in the forest, sparking protests from indigenous people living in the area for ages. They fear the project will displace them.

The killing sparked protests. The Garo tribesmen declared a seven day mourning programme, flew black flags atop houses, shops and other installations and barricaded the Dhaka-Tangail.

The wall construction work was stopped.

Tension is running high in Garo villages as they are holding small rallies and processions, ignoring alleged intimidation by ruling party youths.

Some people this correspondent talked to said a sense of insecurity is prevailing among the indigenous people in the Modhupur forest after ruling BNP activists threatened them against their movement against the Eco Park.

They claimed that the ruling party men, armed with firearms and sharp weapons, entered the Jalchatra-Pachish Mile forest village on Wednesday night and threatened the people to not to raise their voice against the project. Many villagers left homes.

The threat came after a autotempo carrying a group of BNP activists ran into a group of Garo people who were returning home after a procession on the same day in protest against the killing of Piren Slan, the locals claimed.