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2 December, 2019 11:05:40 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 December, 2019 11:28:25 AM

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Extortion on the rise in CHT

22 years of CHT peace accord
DEEPAK ACHARJEE, Dhaka
Extortion on the rise in CHT

Illegal toll collections by extortionists in the three districts under the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), especially in Rangamati and Khagrachari, are on the rise for the last three years.

Sources say a number of activists of the UPDF, UPDF (Democratic), Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti-PCJSS (Santu), and PCJSS (Reformist) are involved in collecting tolls from locals.

According to the sources, these extortionists have been collecting tolls from businesspersons, locals, and employees allegedly on behalf of the four regional political groups.

Law enforcement agencies say the extortionists collected Tk. 389.21 crore and Tk.

367.22 crore in 2018 and 2017, respectively, from the residents of the three hilly districts. Rangamati police superMd Alamgir Kabir told The Independent that as in other places of the country, some people in the name of local political parties had been collecting tolls illegally from the locals.

“We have arrested some extortionists on charges of collecting tolls illegally from locals. However, locals mostly do not file any complaint with the police in this regard,” he said.

“In the name of establishing supremacy, activists belonging to the local groups are killing themselves,” he added. About full implementation of CHT Peace Accord, Kabir said it was something to be considered by the government only and that they were merely  maintaining law and order in the area.

Rangamati deputy commissioner (DC) AKM Mamunur Rashid told this correspondent though the local people of the hills were peace-loving, activists of local groups were involved in various criminal activities including collecting tolls illegally. “We are recovering arms and ammunition from them. We are also giving punishment to these activists,” he said.

Asked, Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing said he heard that a section of locals were committing such crimes. “We have already asked the local administration, especially officers of law enforcement agencies, to arrest the extortionists at any cost,” he added.

Sources said some extortionists, under the banner of the UPDF, were dominating Khagrachari, while members of all the three other local groups—the UPDF, JSS, and JSS (Reformist)—were active in Bandarban. Besides, members of the JSS have established dominance in Rangamati.

Mangal Chakma, a PCJSS spokesperson, denied their involvement in the collection of tolls from locals. “Local people are cooperating with us. We’re not collecting massive amounts from them,” he said.

According to law enforcers, the extortionists are collecting tolls at a fixed rate from locals in the three hilly districts.  If anyone refuses to cough up this amount, the extortionists physically assault them and sometimes even kill them.

Sources said at least 349 activists of the three rival groups had been killed and injured over the past year during clashes over establishing supremacy in the area and illegal collections of tolls in their respective areas.

Law enforcement agencies have failed to stop killings in the hilly districts after failing to recover illegal arms from the local criminal groups. It has been alleged that some members of the four local political parties are smuggling in various arms and ammunition from neighbouring countries. As they were trying to establish supremacy in their respective areas, different groups in the local political parties are fighting each other, leading to unending relentless bloodshed.  

According to local law enforcement agencies, at least 321 people have been killed in the last six years. At least 561 foreign-made sophisticated and modern arms have been recovered from the local terrorists during this time.

A number of sophisticated weapons, such as MG, AK-22 automatic rifles, G-3 rifles, MK-11 rifles, AK-47, AK-56, and M-16 rifles have also been recovered by law enforcement agencies from the possession of the local political parties.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts, spread over 5,093 square miles, covers Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban districts. The region is flanked by two international borders—on the southeast by Myanmar and on the north by India. The region is heavily populated by Jumma and other tribes, including the Chakmas, Marmas, Garos, Mizos and Tripuras.

Locals say a group of Chakmas have taken the initiative to form ‘Chakma Land’ by forming regional parties like the Parbattya Janasamiti Samiti. In 1973, Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of Jana Shanghati Samiti, planned to establish a ‘Chamatri’ state (Chakma, Marma, Tripura state). The plan to establish a ‘Chamatri’ state was later shelved in the face of extreme opposition in the 1980s.

Later, a movement was launched to establish ‘Jhumma Land’, which has still not been resolved.

At present, people of the CHT constitute approximately 0.5 per cent of the country’s total population. The population density is about 113 persons per square kilometre as against 1,147 persons per square kilometre of the country. There are 13 ethnic minorities in the CHT region, with Chakmas constituting 24.72 per cent of their total population.

BK

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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