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Dhaka Tribune

KNF disrupting tourism, development works in Bandarban

Since November 15 last year, at least 548 people from 132 families have taken refuge in Mizoram 

Update : 21 Mar 2023, 12:42 AM

Normalcy in the popular tourist destination, Bandarban, has been disrupted for the last few months due to the armed activities of the separatist group Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) and operations by different security agencies to arrest its members.

The tourism industry is the most affected sector due to the reckless activities of the KNF and its armed wing Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) in the border areas of the district. 

At least 200 hotels and resorts in the district have laid off their employees as a result of the joint operation by the security forces that began on October 17 against the KNF as well as Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, a newly-emerged militant organization affiliated with the KNF.

On the other hand, financial crises have gripped the families linked to more than 200 boats and 300 tourist jeeps (Chander Gari), and around 300 tourist guides in Thanchi and Ruma upazilas.

Armed activities of the separatist group, Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) disrupt normalcy in BandarbanDhaka Tribune

Due to obstruction to jhum cultivation (slash and burn), the hill people are not being able to grow and collect their own food.

Stalled development activities

Due to abduction, torture and killing in three upazilas of the district, the workers engaged in the construction of government roads, bridges, culverts and schools are returning to the district headquarters afraid that they may be kidnapped at any time.

On the other hand, workers from Sadar upazila do not want to go to the upazilas for development work. As a result, there is stagnation in development activities

Hill children are deprived of education

Since last January, six government primary schools in Ruma have remained closed due to operations by the joint forces.

The schools are Mualpi Para Government Primary School, Artah Para Government Primary School, Bastlang Para Government Primary School and Munnuam Para Government Primary School under Paindu Union, and Pakniar Para Government Primary School and Kespai Government Primary School under Remakri Prangsa Union. 

As a result, the educational life of more than 150 underprivileged children has fallen into uncertainty.

KNF ban on transportation

On February 8, the KNF issued a ban on the association of transport owners operating jeeps in Ruma, Thanchi and Rwangchari upazilas for giving vehicles for the ongoing operations of the joint forces. 

Dhaka Tribune

Following this, firing took place on the vehicle drivers and two were kidnapped. On March 15, a ban was issued against vehicular movement after 7pm on the roads to Ruma, Rowangchari and Thanchi from Bandarban for an indefinite period. 

As a result, there is extreme fear among the vehicle drivers plying on the three upazila roads.

Crimes and arrests

During the joint operation, two KNF members were killed while three Mog Party members were killed in KNF firing. On the other hand, 12 construction workers were abducted by the KNF from Thanchi on March 11. Among them, one worker was shot and four people were taken hostage. 

Army Master Warrant Officer Nazim Uddin was killed and two army personnel were injured in KNF firing on March 12. 

On March 15, the KNF members abducted nine people, including Sergeant (Retd) Anwar Hossain, while working on the road in Longthasi Jhiri area of Ruma. 

In a message on March 18, the KNF demanded that 30 people from the Bom community were detained by the joint forces from September 9 till March, and demanded their release. They threatened to kill Anwar Hossain if the KNF members were not released.

Dhaka Tribune

On March 18, the KNF claimed that land mines and bomb traps had been laid in their claimed areas. 

On the other hand, the joint forces said that 68 militants of Jama'atul Ansar and several KNF members were arrested during the operation.

People leaving homes in fear

Since November 15 last year, at least 548 people from 132 families have taken refuge in Mizoram. On January 28, some 140 Marma women, men and children took refuge in Ruma Sadar from Mulpi Para, but they returned to their homes on February 5. 

On March 10, around 220 people of 56 families from Barathli 4 Union of Rangamati's Bilaichhari took shelter in Tangchangya Reichha and Rowangchhari Sadar Upazila in fear of the armed activities by the KNF members.

Infighting in KNF

According to sources, many among the Bom community took shelter in Mizoram with the help of KNF, but many of them later migrated to Chennai and Bangalore to work in various hotels. 

The KNF was angry with them for not taking part in the armed fight. 

As a clash took place among the KNF members over the issue, KNF chief Nathan Bom and the chief of staff of the organization Vanchun Lian Master, who is also an assistant teacher at Pantala Hadman Para Government Primary School, called a meeting at Humunuam village of Langtalai district of Mizoram on March 10. 

Dhaka Tribune

From this meeting, personnel of Assam Rifles arrested two cadres of KNA -- Jingramlian Bom, 32, an aide of Nathan Bom from Remakri Prangsa Union, and KNF Commando Pajau Bom, 22, of Abicholit Para (Gilgar) of Rowangchhari but Nathan Bom and Vanchun Lian Master escaped. 

Assam Rifles claimed that the duo were arrested for smuggling weapons to Myanmar. 

What businesspeople think

Ashish Debnath, a contractor who went from the district town to work in Rowangchhari, said: “Due to the prevailing situation, we left the work and went to the district headquarters with the workers thinking about the safety of life.”

Finance Secretary of Bandarban Hotel Motel Owners Association Rajiv Bara said: “Tourism business in the district is on the verge of collapse. We hope to get rid of all this.”

President of Bandarban District Truck Owners Association Md Musa said: "No armed group has ever attacked drivers before. Now I am worried about the way they are being attacked and kidnapped."

Dhaka Tribune

Bandarban Hill District Council Chairman Kyshaihla hoped that for peace in all the communities in the region, all armed terrorists would surrender their weapons.

Who are these KNF members?

The KNF surfaced on the scene last year after the Indian border forces arrested a dozen members with arms and ammunition in Mizoram. In October, law enforcers discovered that KNF was training members of militant group Jama'atul Ansar in exchange for money.

The group aims at establishing a separate State within Bangladesh -- with nine upazilas, namely Baghaichari, Barkal, Belaichari and Jurachari upazilas of Rangamati hill district and Ruma, Thanchi, Alikadam and Rowangchhari upazilas under Bandarban. 

Dhaka Tribune

Consisting of young male and female members of the Bom community, the KNF maintains close ties with like-minded groups operating in Mizoram, Manipur, Rakhine State and the CHT. 

They consider themselves the original inhabitants of the CHT. At the same time, they consider the Chakma, Marma and Tripura communities to be belonging to the Myanmarese and Indian ethnic groups and outsiders. 

This is why the KNF members are hostile towards regional groups like Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and United People's Democratic Front (UPDF).

The KNF is believed to have 2,000 members armed with heavy weapons, including AK 47, in the Jampui hills of Bandarban's Ruma border and Mizoram border of India.

In 2017, the KNF conducted armed activities under the name KNV. It later strengthened ties with Karen rebel groups in Manipur State and Myanmar, sending several hundred members of the organization to Manipur State and later hundreds of active members for training in Kachin, Karen State and Manipur State in the same year. 

In 2019, the commandos returned to the hill district after training. 

In a letter to the prime minister on December 8, KNF President Nathan Bom urged the government to create a conducive atmosphere for a ceasefire and on modalities of disarmament, and grant its demand for a Kuki-Chin State within and under the ambit of the Constitution.

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