The cold-blooded murder of political rivals in Rangamati’s Baghaichhari reveals the level of apathy among groups involved in ethnic politics in the hill tracts. The Dhaka Tribune’s Ashif Islam Shaon and Nuruchsafa Manik look into the day of one particularly unsettling crime, in the second part of this three-part series
Nine men get off a white microbus at Lakkhichharar Mukh, the mouth of a mountain trail near Gongaram Bazar in Sajek Union.
This is early morning on May 28, roughly two weeks since the public killings of PCJSS-MN Larma leader Shaktimaan Chakma and his ally Tapan Kumar Chakma alias Barma.
The men are armed with heavy weapons. They take the trail down to Korollya Charri village. The hike takes them nearly three hours.
Once there, they look out for the home of village leader Prokash Bejaliya. There they find United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) members Smriti Chakma, 50, and Atol Chakma, 30, and Sanjib Chakma, 30, and immediately shoot them dead.
Aongay Marma, general secretary of Ganotantrik Juba Forum, the youth wing of UPDF, said the attackers were from Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti’s MN Larma faction (PCJSS-MN Larma), an allegation the party has denied.
UPDF was rattled by the attack, since it considered Sajek a stronghold.
The three men who were killed were not the targets, UPDF insiders said. The MN Larma group wanted to send a message that they have the ability to ambush their dens if they wanted to.
UPDF could not imagine that its rivals would find them here, as the place is remote, Aongay said.
“They were not personally targeted. They just wanted to kill some of our men.”
When the armed men appeared at Prokash Bejaliya’s front yard that morning, the family was busy preparing breakfast. The victims tried to flee when they saw the attackers, but to no avail.
Another was shot dead in the yard of the house, with one more nearby. Locals said that one of the victims was shot dead in the surrounding jungle as he ran for life.
Once the murders were done, the group was in no hurry at all. After making sure all the targets were dead, they walked to a nearby tea stall in Gangaramer Mukh area, sat down and ordered tea. Over tea, they calmly announced to the tea stall owner and people present that they had killed three UPDF men in the village.
Also Read- The rift in the hills
The group hid themselves in jungle for the rest of the day and in the evening went out of the area through the Hajachhara Fountain.
Ridoy Ranjan Dewan, ex-member of Sajek Union Parishad said that locals did not see when the killers entered the village as there are no houses nearby. “But we heard sounds of gunfire in the morning and saw them leaving the place. They had tea at the stall to announce their acts,” he said.
Sources said that Sajek is geographically important to all the parties in the hills for various reasons. Baghaihat is used to transport valuable wood, fruits and allegedly, illegal arms. Sajek is considered a very important area considering its resources.
This killing-counter killing has become common among the parties since November, 2017, as the parties are trying to create supremacy in Rangamati and Khagrachhari by ousting their rivals, sources said.
“We have a system where people of hills who work there are posted at places to expand our party’s influence. The men we lost were posted there,” said Aongay Marma.
Asked if the attack has reduced the influence of UPDF in the area, he said that they were in somewhat of a disadvantage. He said that as the attack was sudden they could not retaliate.
Normally, these groups stay at safe houses and shift places regularly to avoid the opponents’ sight. The three men had been staying at the house for several days.
Following the incident, law enforcers went to the spot and sent the bodies to Khagrachhari District Hospital for autopsy. An investigation is going on, said Muhammad Anowar Hossain, officer-in-charge of Sajek Police Station.