Violence is growing in the three hill districts of Bangladesh. In the recent years, there have been several retaliatory murders, and an increase in violence, racketeering, and other crimes.
The three districts have been tense since the beginning of this month following the killings of an Upazila Parishad chairman in broad daylight, followed by the murder of five of his political allies.
In the thick of it are the four different ethnic political parties.
These parties are Santu Larma-led Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), which along with its military wing the Shanti Bahini signed a peace accord with the government in 1997; the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF) which broke away opposing the accord; PCJSS (MN Larma) that came into being in 2007, and UPDF Ganatantrik, which broke away from the UPDF in 2017.
In the last six months, 17 people were killed in conflicts in Khagrachhari and Rangamati districts, most of them members of these parties. Of them nine were from the UPDF, two from PCJSS MN Larma, and four from the UPDF Ganatantrik.
Members of the parties said they feared more bloodshed in the hills as the situation was becoming increasingly confrontational. The main conflict is now between the UPDF, and its breakaway group who are allied with the MN-Larma group.
Shaktimaan Chakma, the chairman of Naniarchar Upazila Parishad in Rangamati - was the vice chairman of PCJSS-MN Larma. He was killed on May 3.
The next day, Tapan Jyoti Chakma alias Barma, president of UPDF Ganatantrik, was killed on his way to Shaktimaan’s funeral along with Sujon Chakma, general secretary of Mohalchhari unit Pahari Chhatra Parishad (PCP), Pronok Chakma, a member of Jubo Samiti, Setu Chakma, member of Jubo Samiti, and their microbus driver Md Sajib.
Death warrant and execution
JSS MN Larma claimed that the six murders were committed by the armed men of UPDF, but the latter denied the allegation. But speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, leaders from both sides admitted that anything could happen as their relations have worsened in the last three years.
Sources said that Barma (Tapan Jyoti Chakma) had been a company commander in the armed wing of UPDF. In 2015, his rivalry with the party’s decision makers took a turn for the worse.
The party rank accused him of financial scams, immoral behaviour, and breaching the codes of conduct. UPDF took internal action against him, moving him to another wing.
“We asked for explanations from him and he failed to defend his actions. So along with 20 of his sympathizers he was ousted from the party,” said Onggo Marma, president of Ganotantrik Juba Forum, the youth wing of UPDF.
Barma went into hiding. UPDF reportedly issued a shoot-at-sight order against him, labeling him as traitor. UPDF never stopped hunting for him. Once Barma got shelter from the JSS (MN-Larma) group, the UPDF kept pressuring them to hand him over.
The JSS kept providing security to Barma and his men.
Samar Chakma, the student affairs secretary of JSS (MN Larma) of Mohalchari upazila unit told the Dhaka Tribune that UPDF had sent two gunmen, who were caught red-handed to Khagrachhari sadar’s Tetultola, where Barma was in their custody. There were some other attempts to kill him.
Leaders from both sides decided to talk over the matter. In October 2017 they sat in a secret meeting at Khagrachhari Sadar’s Giriful area.
Sources said that the four-member UPDF delegation was led by its military commander and district coordinator Ujjal Smrity Chakma while Sudarshan Chakma, a central leader of JSS led his team. The JSS men handed over the two armed men to their party-men.
The JSS decided to withdraw Tapan’s shelter and the parties vowed not to engage in further conflict.
Samar Chakma claimed that JSS leaders after the meeting decided to ‘assist’ Tapan in forming a new party.
On November 15 that year he formed UPDF Ganatantrik and announced an eleven-member central committee at a press briefing at Khagrapur Community Center in Khagrachhari. Ex-platoon commander of UPDF Jaleya Chakma, who is also known as Toru, was made member-secretary.
“As he was in favor of the CHT Peace Accord, Ganatantrik president Tapan got support and security from the local administration,” Samar said.
Tapan had more than 100 men in his new party and most of them were from Naniarchar and Panchhari areas.
“Though he formed UPDF Ganatantrik, he used to work with our Shaktimaan Chakma.”
Pointing fingers at each other
The UPDF leaders alleged that 20 days after the UPDF Ganatantrik was formed they shot to death ex-UP member and UPDF leader Anadi Ranjan Chakma at Naniachar. Ten days after that they killed UPDF organizer Anal Bikash Chakma at Bondukvanga area. UPDF organizing secretary Mithun Chakma was also killed in Khagrachhari.
The latest allegation was against them was abducting two Hill Women Federation (an associate organisation of UPDF) leaders - Doya Sona Chakma and Monti Chakma at gunpoint.
They were freed 33 days into the abduction on April 19. Doya Sona alleged that they were kept in Tetultala area where JSS MN-Larma has a strong hold and she said they were still sheltering Barma’s group.
In February, one Shuvas Chakma was killed at Dighinala in Khagrachhari. UPDF activist Dilip Kumar was shot dead the same month at Harinathpara. In March Moni Chakma of UPDF was killed.
In April there was a counterattack that claimed three lives. Two MN-Larma activists were killed soon after an UPDF man was killed in Naniarchar.
On April 22 in a shootout between the two parties, a UPDF man - Shunil Bikash Tripura - was killed.
Onggo Marma, president of Ganotantrik Juba Forum, claimed that in all these incidents were masterminded by JSS MN-Larma group, especially the slain upazila chairman Shaktimaan Chakma.
Political gain is a fact too?
UPDF has recently made political ties with the PCJSS Santu Larma over mutual political interests.
Onggo Marma said though the parties do not see eye-to-eye about the CHT Peace Accord, they came to an understanding for the sake of ‘greater interests’.
The plan is that UPDF and PCJSS will stand together against the two breakaway factions and will also try to have political supremacy, he said.
Asked why the UPDF was trying to Tapan badly, Onggo Marma said: “He committed some grievous crimes. We wanted to take organizational action against him.”
Sources inside UPDF said that Naniarchar was their stronghold before 2014 Upazila Parishad election. Shaktimaan Chakma won the election against the UPDF-backed candidate and they lost the supremacy there.
The killing of Shaktimaan will politically benefit them. Besides, Tapan Jyoti, as a top leader of their military unit knew information about their ‘safe dens.’
After he was expelled, they did not think it safe to let him go, sources said. The UPDF also wanted Shaktimaan as his party gave shelter to Tapan, claimed sources.
A UPDF leader claimed that among the nine upazilas in Khagrachhari, six have public representatives who are either UPDF-backed or sympathizers. They are now focusing on national polls.
On the other hand, MN Larma group claimed they have domination over Khagrachhari Sadar and some three to four upazilas of Rangamati.
Since the formation of PCJSS MN-Larma they signed three agreements for ‘peace’ with the UPDF. But none of those were sustained.
The first deal was signed on July 12, 2007 where UPDF and JSS vowed to refrain from bloody conflict and also divided up areas of domination. The second one was signed in May 2011 following a two-day discussion on May 14-15.
The conflict continued despite the agreements, and scores of men from both parties were killed.
The third followed a five-day meeting among the leaders of two parties in 2015.
They came up with three major decisions including not to giving shelter to any expelled members of rival parties, taking action together against the Tapan Jyoti group and pitching candidates jointly for the upcoming Union Parishad election through negotiations. But in the end, they could not pitch candidates jointly.
UPDF believed that Tapan Jyoti could not have formed the new party if JSS MN-Larma group had not backed him up.
They said that in this situation ‘bloody conflict’ was inevitable. UPDF blames four leaders of MN-Larma — Tatindra Lal Chakma, Sudarshan Chakma, Shaktimaan Chakma, Anghshuman.
Of them, Shaktimaan has already been killed.
UPDF activists are currently in hiding because of law enforcement drives, sources said. On the other hand JSS MN Larma members are fearing for their lives and staying within safe zones.