Vol. 4 Num 327 Fri. April 30, 2004  
Front Page

May 8 Hartal in CHT
Hills people, settlers set for a face-off

The peace process in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) risks getting off the track as the hills people spearheaded by the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) and Bangali settlers led by Somo Odhikar Andolan (SOA) are set for a showdown.

PCJSS will be enforcing a general strike in three hill districts of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari on May 8 kicking off an anti-government movement as the government did not meet any of its four-point charter of demands including full implementation of the peace accord.

The other demands are removal of Wadud Bhuiyan, the plain-lander chairman of the CHT Development Board, withdrawal of troops from the hills region and appointment of an indigenous person as a full minister in charge of the CHT affairs.

PCJSS, which claims to represent 25 lakh hills people, plans to throw a series of programme later to realise its demands. It had put its programmes on hold due to the Baisabi festival and SSC examinations.

Andolan, the newly launched umbrella organisation for settlers, has vowed to resist the PCJSS programmes.

"All the governments, past and present, have treated us in almost the same way. We never find them sincere in addressing our problems," PCJSS Vice-president Rupayan Dewan told The Daily Star yesterday.

"…They ask us either to become 'Bangali' or 'Bangladeshi' but none of them realises that we are hills people with different culture and tradition. So we have to launch an agitation programme in the greater interest of the hills people," he added.

"The Bangali settlers have vowed to resist the shutdown and all other PCJSS programmes in future," said Wadud Bhuiyan, who supports Andolan.

"I think Bangalis will resist them as they are the more deprived than the hills people. They are fighting for equal rights in the CHT."

The government recently at a meeting of Cabinet Committee on CHT Affairs decided to empower the CHT Regional Council with some more responsibility such as supervision of development work of Parbatya Unnayan Board and hills district councils. The government also plans to offer some facilities to the PCJSS in a bid to pacify it.

"Whatever the government is going to do for the hills people is an eyewash. Recently, they announced to waive bank loans of the PCJSS members. But the loan amount totals not more than Tk 22,587. The district council does not listen to us as ruling BNP members sit on it. So we see no way other than movement," said Rupayan.

Sources said among some 1,800 members of PCJSS, who returned home after decades of bush war, only four have the bank loans to the tune of Tk 22,587, which the government is going to waive.

The Parbatya Gana Parishad, of which Andolan is an offshoot, meanwhile has started negotiating with the government to play a broader role in the CHT Regional Council. They met the Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, also the chairman of the Cabinet Committee on CHT Affairs, on Tuesday and placed a 20-point demand.

A Parishad statement said on the same day that Bhuiyan had assured them that the government would reconstitute the CHT Regional Council within the next month with members of the Parbatya Gana Parishad replacing the Bangali members, who were appointed during the Awami League regime.

Six Bangali members, two from each of three hill districts, are currently working with the regional council.

Deputy Minister for CHT Affairs Moni Swapan Dewan, however, declined that the government has made a move to replace the members.

Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma a.k.a. Shantu Larma, chairman of the CHT Regional Council, said he does not know of any impending changes in the regional council. He however said groups like Parbatya Gana Parishad and Somo Odhikar Andolan are not new. They emerged in regular basis in different names to create problems in the CHT region.