Bangali settlers torched a number of houses and shops of the indigenous peoples in Langadu upazila of Rangamati Friday, blaming them for the death of a Bangali for-hire motorcycle driver in Khagrachhari.
A woman named Gunamala Chakma, 75, has been killed in the arson attacks, Bangla Tribune reported quoting Atarokchhara Union Parishad Chairman Mangal Kanti Chakma.
Details about her identity and location of the incident could not be known immediately.
Police said three people had been detained over the series of attacks that began Friday morning. They are Sabuj, Khayer and Mamun.
Rangamati district administration declared Section 144 in the area around noon to quell the situation. But reports of further attacks came from remote Adivasi-dominated villages of the area as of 12:45pm.
Bangalis claimed that the driver, Nurul Islam Noyon, was a Jubo League activist hailing from Baitya Para of Langadu.
In photos shared in social media, several hundred adivasis were seen leaving their houses for safety as the attacks began following a procession brought out with the body of the driver, found dead Thursday.
Many adivasi people of at least three villages in Tintila, Manikjora Chhara and Baitya Para areas including women and children fled their homes to hills and forests to save their lives. Many others have been reported missing since the attacks.
Terming it communal and planned, locals alleged that neither the army nor the police had taken any step to stop the rowdy attackers.
The local army camp and the Langadu police station are very close to the villages where the attacks took place.
Additional Superintendent of Police (crime) Md Safiul Sarwar said that the ban on gathering had been imposed to bring the situation under control.
He said that they were yet to assess the losses.
Adivasi political groups PCJSS and UPDF blamed the leaders of local Awami League and Jubo League for inciting the attacks, and announced protest programmes.
Noyon was buried at his village home after a janaza on the Upazila Parishad premises around 11:30am.
Probe body formed
In the afternoon, senior officials of the administration and law enforcement agencies sat in a meeting at the upazila office when a three-member committee, headed by Upazila Project Officer Jahangir Hossain, was formed to investigate the incident.
Chaired by UNO Tajul Islam, the meeting decided to prepare a list of affected people, intensify patrol and quick arrest of the perpetrators.
Additional Deputy Commissioner (revenue) Prakash Kanti Chowdhury, Zone Commander Lt Col Abdul Alim Chowdhury, ASP Safiul and Rangamati District Council Member Md Jane Alam were present at the meeting among others.
Official sources said that around 10 houses of the Bangali and the adivasi communities had been torched and six people injured in the incident.
How the attacks began
Tension began on Thursday afternoon after the body of the motorcycle driver was found near Khagrachhari Sadar-Dighinala road. Bangalis took the body to his village home in Langadu and campaigned to organise protests alleging that the adivasi people were responsible for this death.
The Bangalis brought out a procession from Langadu’s Baichchapara area around 7:30am Friday with the body for funeral prayers at the Upazila Parishad ground, but torched the upazila office of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) after vandalising it on their way around 10am.
“They first attacked the Chakma village under Langadu Sadar, and then torched the houses of the upazila chairman and No 3 Mouza headman, and the regional office of the headmen which is known as a multipurpose community centre,” a headman of Rangamati Sadar told the Dhaka Tribune seeking anonymity.
Then they moved towards the remote villages, and looted the houses before setting them on fire.
The adivasi people tried to resist the attackers in some places, but to no avail.
However, Langadu Upazila Chairman Tofazzal Hossain gave a different version.
“Noyon’s body was brought to the Upazila Parishad ground for janaza around 9am. The local Jubo League held a protest rally after the prayers, but some of the supporters faced attacks by some Pahari [hill people] youths armed with sticks at Manikjora Chhara when they were going to attend rally.
“Then an angry Bangali mob torched some houses of the paharis in Kathaltola area. In retaliation, some Pahari youths set fire to several houses belonging to the Bangali people leaving four injured,” the upazila chairman claimed.
Meanwhile, members of Parbatya Bangali Chhatra Parishad formed a human chain in Shapla Chattar area in Khagrachhari town around 11am, demanding justice for Noyon’s death. They gave the local administration 48 hours for the arrest of the killers, our Khagrachhari correspondent Nuruchsafa Manik reported.
On the other hand, supporters of Jubo League and PBCP held protest programmes in Rangamati town demanding punishment of the adivasi terrorists, our Rangamati correspondent Bijoy Dhar reported.
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The Bangalis are also spreading hatred against the adivasis on Facebook terming them terrorists and threatening to avenge the death of Noyon.
Additional police have been deployed at different points of the town. The army personnel are also patrolling the town to avert any untoward incidents.
Members of some local political groups including Somo Odhikar Andolon and Parbatya Nagarik Parishad, platforms of Bangali people linked to different political parties including Awami League and Jamaat, are blamed for spreading communal hatred in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region while opposing the implementation of the 1997 CHT Accord.
These groups have long been enforcing shutdowns and staging demonstrations on a regular basis demanding ban on adivasi political groups like PCJSS and UPDF.
They staged agitation programmes in April in protest against the death of another Bangali for-hire motorcycle driver in Khagrachhari.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, PCJSS Information and Publicity Secretary Mangal Kumar Chakma blamed the army and the police for inciting the attacks.
When the adivasis feared attacks on Thursday, the army officials said that the Bangali settlers had the right to bring out a procession, “but we will ensure that they hold the procession peacefully,” PCJSS quotes Maj Rafique of Langadu zone.
The PCJSS claims that Langadu zone Commander LT Col Abdul Alim Chowdhury and Langadu police Officer-in-Charge Mominul Islam were present when the Bangalis were carrying out vandalism, loot and arson attacks on the shops and houses of the indigenous peoples.
In a separate statement, UPDF’s Rangamati district unit Chief Organiser Shantideb Chakma claimed that the leaders and activists of Awami League and its youth wing Jubo League had incited the attacks.
They provoked the local settlers to launch attacks on the indigenous peoples even though there was no proof of their involvement. “In the morning, they gathered local settlers and chanted offensive slogans in a procession.
“But the members of the army and representatives of the local administration did not stop them,” reads the statement.
[caption id="attachment_66782" align="alignleft" width="270"] Map of Langadu Upazila, Rangamati
A similar attack was orchestrated by the local Bangali people in Tintila area of Langadu on May 4 in 1989 with the help of the security forces – during the rule of deposed military dictator HM Ershad. But that was more devastating.
It took place within a couple of hours after the death of then Langadu upazila chairman Abdur Rashid in a gun attack.
At least 36 Adivasi people including women and children were killed – shot or hacked to death – while some went missing in the attack that was carried out in six villages, according to London-based rights group Amnesty International.
Several hundred houses, many Buddhist temples and two churches were torched. Those who escaped took shelter in hills and dense forests. Many of them later crossed the border in Tripura.
The matter did not get media attention immediately due to censorship by the then autocratic government. On May 9, as many as 22 distinguished citizens including Chief of Chakma Circle Devasish Roy, and lawmakers Chaithowai Roaza and Sudipta Dewan issued a statement demanding a judicial inquiry into the attacks terming it Langadu Genocide.
Adivasi students of Dhaka organised the first protest procession on May 21 demanding trial of the culprits and compensation for the victims. Buddhist monks brought out a silent procession on May 30.