Calm returns to Chittagong Hill Tracts, but fear remains

March 2, 2010

The children of Ms Buddhapati Chakma, who was shot dead by soldiers, speak to local journalists. 2010. © Satrong Chakma

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Calm is returning to the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh after last week’s attacks on the Jumma tribal people by the Bangladesh army and settlers.

However, reports from the area suggest that thousands of Jummas have been made homeless after settlers, supported by the army, burnt more than 400 tribal houses to the ground.

Two Buddhist temples, two churches and a school were also burnt down. Tensions had been raised when settlers, supported by soldiers, expanded their settlements on Jumma land.

After the attacks in Baghaihat, where at least two people were shot dead by the army and hundreds of homes were razed to the ground, the violence spread to other areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. More than 60 Jumma houses were destroyed in the Khagrachari region. Restrictions on movement, and fear that they would be attacked by settlers, or arrested under false charges, made it difficult for many Jummas to venture out of hiding, and hampered efforts to confirm the number of dead and injured.

The EU has condemned the attacks and called for an independent investigation into the incident, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. Jumma groups and organizations such as Survival International, Amnesty and the CHT Commission, have also condemned the attacks and called for an investigation. There have been peaceful demonstrations in Bangladesh, India, USA, Britain and Australia.

Hundreds of thousands of settlers have been moved into the Hill Tracts over the last sixty years, in a policy supported by successive governments, displacing the eleven Jumma tribes and subjecting them to violent repression.

In 1997 the government and the Jummas signed a peace accord that committed the government to removing military camps from the region and to ending the theft of Jumma land by settlers and the army. The accord offered hope, but military camps remain in the Hill Tracts and violence and land grabbing continue.