The spokesperson of PCJSS Santu Larma faction has denied that the outfit was the guilty party behind the armed attack on an army patrol team in Lama, Bandarban Monday that triggered a gunfight resulting in the death of an attacker.
“We do not have any armed group and have not been involved in any armed activities since the signing of the 1997 Peace Accord between PCJSS and the then government led by Sheikh Hasina,” Mangal Kumar Chakma, information and publicity secretary of PCJSS Santu Larma faction, told the Dhaka Tribune Tuesday evening.
“We have been carrying out our programmes democratically and peacefully,” he said over the phone, when contacted for comments on the army’s claim.
Meanwhile, Lama police on Tuesday confirmed that the dead attacker was Purno Ratan Chakma, 29, son of Rangu Chakma of Hirachar in Baghaichhari of Rangamati, and claim that he was a PCJSS member.
But they could not confirm his affiliation as the PCJSS has two factions functional in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, reports our Bandarban correspondent.
On the other hand, the two local children who sustained bullet injuries during the gunfight were recovering, doctors said.
Injured Mangpren Mro, 8, is being treated in Chittagong Medical College Hospital while Di Nung Mro, 7, in Lama Upazila Health Complex.
Lama police said the law enforcers had recovered 12 rounds of bullets of pistols, 49 rounds of rifles’, and Tk10,120 in cash from the spot near Naikkhyangmukh where communication system is weak and movement of people is also thin.
On Monday, a patrol team of Ruposhipara army camp was ambushed in the area around 4pm. The army personnel fired back, resulting in the gunfight. The attack was launched by a group of 15-20 miscreants, according to police.
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A team from the army’s Lama sub-zone reached the spot at 6pm.
After the two-hour-long gun battle, they found the body of Purno Ratan, bullets and the cash, while the other attackers fled the scene with the weapons.
“The dead man was wearing an olive-green unmarked uniform. We are suspecting they were members of Jana Samhati Samiti,” Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Assistant Director Rezaul Karim told the Dhaka Tribune Monday night.
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, aka Santu Larma, is the chief of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS). The breakaway faction is known as PCJSS (MN Larma).
“Vested interests who want to disrupt the implementation of the 1997 CHT Peace Accord are blaming us for criminal activities taking place in the region,” Mangal Chakma said.
The ISPR director, Lt Col Rashidul Hasan, said that the PCJSS was a suspect. “We are still probing the matter further to ascertain who was behind the ambush.”
The top military spokesman, however, said that there were three specific reasons that the PCJSS was under suspicion.
Rashidul said that the olive green uniform that the attacker wore was one worn by JSS cadres and one of the three mobile phones that could be switched on showed the name of the armed unit chief of the JSS on the list of its "dialled numbers."
The ISPR director explained, with the benefit of locally collected intelligence, that given the present tobacco season the area was witnessing a seasonal three way turf war among the Tripura Party, the Arakan Liberation Party and the JSS. “The JSS group opened fire on the army patrol sensing their presence around them.”
The much-desired accord signed in 1997 following the surrender of arms by PCJSS members ended a decade-long armed conflict in the region. But the PCJSS alleges that the subsequent governments have refused to implement the accord fully.
Earlier, five allegedly linked to the MN Larma group were killed and a huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered in Baghaichhari, Rangamati when the army was conducting a raid in August, 2015.
Naikkhyangmukh, a den of criminals
The attack on army, first time in many years, took place at a time when the military has been carrying out joint drives to arrest criminals involved in abduction and extortion. PCJSS and some groups have criticised the raids alleging harassment of innocent indigenous people.
At a meeting on law and order last month, the union parishad chairmen under Lama Upazila agreed that new security outposts should be installed in Naikkhyangmukh, Lulaing and Popa areas as the incidents of abduction and extortion had risen sharply in the recent times.
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A man carrying an injured child away from the location after the shootout Dhaka Tribune
According to local sources, armed gangs in the CHT get involved in criminal activities, mainly abduction, to raise funds and sometimes to establish supremacy in an area. They use the banner of different parties and groups as protection.
The indigenous political groups have been staging demonstrations on a regular basis for the last couple of years urging the government to materialise the provisions of the accord, speed up activities of the land dispute resolution commission and to withdraw the 11-point directives imposed in the CHT in early 2015 that might disrupt the peace process.
They also demand that the government stop eviction and systematic oppression of the underprivileged communities, and remove mistrust between the indigenous people and the Bangali settlers for peaceful coexistence.
On the other hand, some Bangali groups backed by political parties have been enforcing shutdowns and strikes, and staging demonstrations demanding cancellation of the Peace Accord and equal land rights citing that the Bangalis have outnumbered the indigenous people in many areas.
The typical campaigns against the indigenous people labelling them as terrorists and castigating them as non-Muslims have also gained momentum in the social media – mainly Facebook – and little-known online newspapers recently.