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Chittagong Peace Accord

2 December 1997

Background of the Accord Salient Features of Accord Full Text of Accord 
The fragility of peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh - Thomas Feeny


Asia-Pacific Human Rights Network  reports on the Elusive Peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, 10 December 1999 An uneasy peace hangs like an ephemeral cloud in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) of Bangladesh. 

A little over two years ago, amidst much fanfare, on 2 December 1997, the insurgent Parbattaya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) and the Government of Bangladesh signed the CHTs Peace Accord.

 Since the accord, a hundred arrests and over a dozen killings have taken place. The three extrajudicial executions of Jummas (hill peoples) on 16 October 1999 is one more reminder that the peace accord seems to have been written on sand. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's repeated promises not withstanding, 86 cases filed against 672 members of the JSS during the 25 years of insurgency are yet to be withdrawn. 

The cases should have been withdrawn in February 1998 after the surrender of arms as per the terms of the peace agreement. 

The Awami League Government in Dhaka, caught between the army and an opposition that is less than reasonable has decided that the implementation of the terms of the Accord can wait. Dhaka's procrastination on the District Council Bills, nomination of the members of the Regional Council, establishment of a Land Commission, rehabilitation of the internally displaced Jummas and returnee refugees and withdrawal of military camps bode ill for an uneasy calm that hovers over the sylvan hills of CHT. The Government of Bangladesh announced the formation of the CHTs Regional Council under the leadership of Mr Shantu Larma, the JSS supremo, in September 1998. 

The JSS leaders refused to take charge of the Regional Council until May 1999 due to differences with Dhaka on a range of issues. 

Apart from passing the Bills for the District Councils and the Regional Councils in a controversial way, little has been done to implement the Accord. The returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jummas have not been rehabilitated. Although the Government announced the establishment of the Land Commission to settle the land disputes, it is yet to start functioning. The Government of Bangladesh has shown little interest in the most crucial issue - the return of usurped lands to the indigenous Jummas. A mere 29 camps out of about 500 military camps in the CHTs have reportedly been withdrawn since December 1997. The army continues to violate human rights. Most of the recent victims have been members of Hill Peoples Council (HPC), Hill Students Council (HSC) and Hill Women Federation (HWF) which have criticised the Accord. 

They hold that the Accord failed to address the question of constitutional recognition of the distinct identity of the Jummas. They have been demanding, autonomy with a self governing legislature, withdrawal of illegal plainsmen settlers and military camps and return of the lands to the original Jumma owners. 

The three military cantonments in the CHTs at Dighinala, Ruma and Alikadam continue to remain. Although the CHTs Accord had proposed to set up a "Land Commission", there is a legitimate fear that the Government would settle the illegal settlers on Khas (village common) lands. 

The Government of Bangladesh has also provided impunity to the security forces who committed serious human rights abuses in the last 25 years. Many fear that such blanket impunity will only encourage more human rights abuses. Given Dhaka's track record, the fears are not unfounded. On 16 October 1999, Mr Dipon Chakma, 15 years; Mr Tinamoni Chakma, 38 years and Mr Sukomol Chakma, 40 years were killed at Babuchara Bazaar under Dighinala Thana. The Bangladesh army personnel organized a reprisal attack on the Jummas after one Bangladesh army personnel was beaten up by the Jummas for molesting a Jumma girl named Ms Sulata Chakma at a corner of the Babuchara Bazar. Jumma children and women were reportedly dragged out of shops and beaten with wooden sticks. More than 60 people were injured. The Khagrachari District administration formed a three-member committee headed by the Additional District Magistrate to probe the incident at Babuchhara Bazar in Dighinala thana. The move however, has evoked little confidence. The army and settlers perpetrated a massacre on 17 November 1993 at Naniachar. More than 40 indigenous Jummas were killed at Naniachar Bazaar by Bangladesh army and the settlers. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions in his report to the 51st Session of the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/1995/61) stated that he was not provided with full information into the killings at Naniachar by the Government of Bangladesh. 

The Special Rapporteur urged the Bangladesh Government to " fulfill its obligations under international law to clarify the circumstances of each alleged violation of the right to life with a view to identifying those responsible and bringing them to justice, and to take appropriate measures to prevent similar acts from happening in future " The Government of Bangladesh ordered a judicial inquiry headed by Justice Habibur Rahman to inquire into the Naniachar massacre. 

The Justice Habibur Rahman Commission report was submitted to the Government of Bangladesh on 26 May 1994. Until today, the Government of Bangladesh has failed to make the report public. To add insult to injury, Jumma activists have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the "Naniachar riot". On 11 February 1998, Mr Sachib Chakma, a leader of the Hill Peoples Council was arrested alongwith his two colleagues, Mr Jyotimoy Chakma and Mr Tapan Jyoti Chakma from Naniachar Bazaar under Rangamati district. They were charged in two different cases with killing and arson at Naniachar Bazaar on 17 November 1993. 

The first pertained to the alleged assault on one Mr Gautam Dewan and his colleagues, the second to alleged suspicious activities. When the Government's own Judicial Inquiry Commission Report which reportedly identified the real culprits has not been released, how could the Jummas who were the victims, be arrested is a question that is often asked in the hills. The Government of Bangladesh has put serious restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly. On 22 April 1999, Mr Putul Chakma, 19 years, son of Mr Bimolendu Chakma of village Babupara, Panchari, Khagrachari district and Mr Suramoni Chakma, 21 years, son of Mr Fagunchan Chakma of Kutukchari under Rangamati district were killed after the Bangladesh Police fired indiscriminately at the indigenous Jummas at Khagrachari. 

More than 100 were injured. They were participating in a demonstration at Khagrachari. The Government of Bangladesh also banned a rally organized by the HSC, HPC and HWF on 22 October 1999 against the Babuchara killing by imposition of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits assembly of more than five persons. The JSS is not oblivious of such large scale arrests and violations. However, given the political threat the HPC, HSC and HWF pose, the JSS apparently has not only tolerated the repression of the Jumma students by the Bangladesh Police but allegedly allowed its cadres to connive with the Bangladesh Police.

 Although, the JSS raises objections to the non-implementation of the Peace Accord, it maintains a thunderous silence on the human rights abuses by the Bangladeshi security forces. Attempts of the Jumma elders to bridge the differences between the JSS and United Peoples Democratic Front, the parent organization of HSC, HPC and HWF, have failed. 

The JSS reportedly refuses to talk to those whom it considers "criminals", "radicals" and "renegades". Not so long ago, Dhaka used the same epithets for the JSS cadres. The JSS leaders also reportedly believe that dialogue would give legitimacy to the UPDF. In the meanwhile, fratricidal killings between the JSS and UPDF continue. The CHTs, sandwiched between the Arakan hills of Burma and the North East India is the homeland of ten different ethnic nationalities namely the Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Khiyang, Lushai, Khumi, Chak, Murung, Bowm and Pankoo for the last few centuries. They are collectively known as Jumma, a term used by the Chittagonian Bangalees, for their shifting cultivation or Jum cultivation. For two and half decades since 1975, the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh have been subjected to serious human rights abuses including large scale massacres. 

The "Planned Population Transfer" of over half a million Bengali plains settlers worsened the situation and created a permanent focus for violence between the illegal settlers and the indigenous Jumma peoples. The consistent human rights abuses including massacres of the Jummas by the Bangladesh security forces and the illegal plain settlers forced 70,000Jummas, about 10% of the total Jumma population to seek shelter in Tripura State of India in 1986, 1989 and 1993. 

Over 10,000 Jumma refugees were forcibly repatriated by the Government of India to the Chittagong Hill Tracts in February and July 1994 and March-April 1997. The rest returned after signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. The Delegation of the European Union in Dhaka in many press conferences has made it clear that unless the Accord is implemented, they will not provide aid and assistance to projects in the hills. It is apparent that the more astute donor agencies do not rush in with aid for development in a situation that is as yet, unclear.

 They are conscious that Civil society amongst the Jumma peoples which was torn asunder by the 25 years of insurgency must be given an opportunity to develop. They are also conscious that mainstream Bangladeshi NGOs should not be given the primary task of undertaking development in the CHTs. The nascent NGOs of the indigenous Jumma peoples must be supported if trickle down theories are to work. The non-implementation of the Peace Accord increases the division amongst the Jummas and weakens Jumma civil society. The appointment of an independent monitoring agency by the European Union or the United Nations to assist and facilitate implementation of the Peace Accord would be useful. The calm is uneasy, it could well be the lull before the gathering storm. 

Background of the Accord

Introduction :  The Chittagong Hill Tracts, situated at the south eastern part of Bangladesh, comprises of three districts - Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban. 

The total area of Chittagong Hill Tracts is 13,295 sq. kilometer. According to the 1991 census, the total population of the area is 974,445. Of the total population, 501,145 are tribals and the rest non-tribals from other areas of the country. The ratio of tribal and non-tribal population is 51:49. 

The tribal population in the three hill districts of Bangladesh is divided into as many as 14 tribes, each having its own distinct dialect, culture, custom, practice and rituals. The Chakma, the Marma and the Tripura are the largest three. The tribal population, except for the Tripuras, are mostly Buddhist, by religion. Tripuras are Hindus. The non-tribals are predominantly Muslims.  

The economy of the area is primarily agricultural. Both jhum (burn and shift method) and plough cultivation are practised here. Jhum cultivation, a traditionally tribal phenomenon, is practised at subsistence level and rarely yields marketable surplus. The total arable land is 325,745 acres, of which 108,100 acres are under cultivation. Forests cover 2,423,945 acres, accounting for roughly three-fourth of the total area of the three hill districts. Apart from farming, tribal people earn their living by weaving clothes and making various types of cane and bamboo products.  

Genesis of the problem :  

In absence of recorded accounts, the ancient history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is not known in details. The area came under the Mughal rule in 1666. In 1760, following the demise of the Mughal empire, it came under the British East India company rule. During the British administration, the area that now comprises the Chittagong Hill Tracts, was part of the district called Chittagong. In 1860, it was separated, and a new district, called the Chittagong Hill Tracts, was created.  

For facilitating administration, the British government in India promulgated the "Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation, 1900". The Deputy Commissioner was made the administrative head of the district. Under the regulation, three circles were established and the Circle Chiefs - the Chakma Chief, the Bomang Chief and the Mong Chief - were made responsible for the collection of revenue and administration of other affairs including, litigation and enforcement of social justice. 

The circles were divided into Mouzas and the Mouzas into Pada. The Deputy commissioner, in consultation with the concerned Circle Chief, used to appoint the Mouza Headmen. The Mouza Headmen were responsible for the collection of rent and taxes and maintenance of law and order in the Mouzas, Till date, they are performing the same functions.  The Deputy Commissioner was required to consult the Circle Chiefs on all important matters relating to the administration of the district. Resurrections were imposed on settlement and leasing out of land to non-residents. 

The Deputy commissioner personally looked after the affairs of land settlement and disposed the civil cases. There was no provision of civil court and no civil court functions in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

The Commissioner of Chittagong Division acts as appellate authority on cases disposed of by the Deputy Commissioner.  The tribal people, in general, believe that the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulations, 1900 protect the rights and interests of the tribal people, their customs and practices and cultural traits. The tribal people maintain that the Chittagong Hill Tracts was a protected and isolated tribal area and was not directly administered as a colony by the British.  

The construction of the Kaptai Dam and Kaptai hydroelectric power plant changed the scenario of the area to a great extent. The project, when completed in 1962, submerged 54,000 acres, that is, nearly 40 percent of the best agricultural land, and displaced about 100,000 people, mostly the Chakmas. It is alleged that the displaced persons were not properly rehabilitated or compensated for by the then Pakistan government. This created resentment among the tribal population. 

 The first constitution of Pakistan retained both the "Excluded Area" status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the ‘Regulation’ of 1900. For the first time, the tribal people were given the right of franchise. The next constitution of Pakistan, promulgated by president Ayub Khan in 1962, changed the administrative status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts from that of an "Excluded Area" to that of a "Tribal Area." The special status was abolished by a constitutional amendment in 1963. But the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation, 1900 remained in force.  

Because of their pattern and style of Jhum cultivation, the tribal people never bothered to secure formal ownership of land. This, subsequently, proved detrimental to their interest and to their natural property rights as settlers from the plain lands took advantage of the situation and grabbed lands traditionally processed by the tribals. In absence of any formal documentation, the tribal people were unable to contest claims for their own land. Over the last few decades, they have been continually displaced and marginalized by the settlers.  

During the Liberation War of Bangladesh, some of the tribal leaders crossed over to India and joined the war. On the other hand, the Chakma and Bomang Chief sided with the Pakistan occupation army. The Chakma Chief even traveled to the United Nations as a member of the Pakistan delegation during the war and, thus, associated himself with anti-liberation forces. Due to role of some of the tribal leaders in general, and that of Raja Tridib Roy, the then Chakma Chief, in particular, the tribal population came to be branded as anti-Bangladesh element by the local organisers of the Liberation War.  

Immediately after independence, some retaliatory moves were taken by the local organisers of the Liberation War and violence committed. This created resentment in the minds of the tribal people in general. They felt particularly aggrieved with regard to the question of preservation and protection of their own culture and tradition. Gradually a sense of fear, distrust and frustration gripped the basically simple-minded tribal people of this area. 

The problem was intensified when late Manabendra Narayan Larma formed, in 1972, Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS - Chittagong Hill Tracts Organisation for People's Solidarity) and, in 1973, its armed wing, the Santi Bahini. PCJSS soon became a front organisation to protect the rights of the tribal people and to organise movement in the area with a view to achieving its demand for autonomy of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

  Measures to quell dissatisfaction :   

In order to quell the dissatisfaction of the tribal population, the then government adopted certain measures pertaining to the welfare of the people. These included, among others, a declaration for the establishment of a body called the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board at Rangamati for overall development of the area. 

Although some other measures were initiated by the then government these did not materialise, since the government changed following the gruesome murder of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975. The establishment of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board too was delayed.  

The armed struggle of the tribal people gradually spread in the whole of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and consequently the law and order situation there deteriorated. Initially the then government appeared to regard the problem as basically an economic one and undertook massive development programmes through the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board established in 1976. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of the tribal people and failed also to remove their resentment. 

Moreover, certain controversial measures taken by the government, including the planted settlement of non-tribals in the CHT, worsened the relationship between the tribals and the non-tribals. 

Between 1976 to 1981, the number of incidence of violence between the two group gradually increased and armed confrontation between the security forces and Shanti Bahini escalated. In the middle of 1984, communal harmony between the tribals and non-tribals deteriorated further and armed conflict between the security forces and Shanti Bahini intensified. Consequently, a section of the tribal population left their abodes for fear of life, crossed the border and took shelter in Tripura, India. 

  Negotiation with PCJSS to settle the problem :  

During the rule of General Ershad, efforts were made to solve the problem through a dialogue with Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS). In order to find out ways and means to solve the crisis in Chittagong Hill Tracts, the first meeting between a military committee constituted by the government and leaders of PCJSS was held on October 1985 and was followed by a series of meetings which continued until 1988. During these meeting, PCJSS tabled the following five-point demand for autonomy : 

  Autonomy for Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT):

Restriction, to be incorporated in the Constitution, on changing the status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts without the consent of the people of the area;  Withdrawal of the people from the plain land, that is, other parts of the country, who came to the CHT after 14 August 1947, the date on which Pakistan came into being;  Allocation of additional funds for implementation of development projects in the CHT; and  Creation of a congenial atmosphere for the solution of the problems of the CHT. 

Establishment of Hill District Local Government Council

Meetings with the PCJSS bore no fruit. Subsequently, in 1989, the government establish three Hill District Local Government Councils, each for Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban, with special administrative and financial powers. The Hill District Councils, headed by tribals, were given a wide range of powers for running most of the development and administrative affairs. While a section of the tribal population accepted the new set-up, the mainstream PCJSS and Shanti Bahini remained opposed to it. Their demand for full autonomy continued to be made; armed insurgency continued; the tribal refugees also continued to remain in Tripura, India. 

 In July 1992, the government constituted a nine-member ‘Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts’ to recommend, to the government, a solution to the Chittagong Hill Tracts problem. The committee members were Members of parliament drawn from ruling BNP, Awami League and Jamat-i-Islami. In the back drop of the initiative of the new government, PCJSS unilaterally declared cease-fire for three months with effect from 10 August 1992.  From November, 1992 to May 1994, seven rounds of talk were held between this Committee and the leaders of PCJSS. In the second meeting held between the National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts and PCJSS in December 1992, the latter submitted its revised five-point demand.

 Thereafter, a sub-committee was formed to continue discussions with PCJSS. Six rounds of meetings were held until October 1995. Due to intransigent stand taken by both the sides, these meetings failed to make any headway towards the resolution of the problem. The tenure of the Committee expired in march 1996. According to its terms of reference, the Committee was required to submit a report to the government which it never did.  

Initiative taken by the present Bangladesh government to dissolve the problem: 

  Realising the need for an early resolution of the problems in Chittagong Hill Tracts, the present government lead by the Awami League chief Shikh Hasina, within four months of its assumption of office, formed an eleven-member Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts in October, 1996 with Abul Hasnat Abdullah, the Chief Whip of the Parliament, as its Chairman. Later, the membership rose to twelve. 

The Committee members were Members of parliament belonging to Awami League (party in power), BNP and Jatio Party (parties in opposition), retired government officials and renowned social workers.  In continuation of the meetings held during the tenure of the previous government, the first meeting between the newly constituted National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts (NCCHT) and the leaders of PCJSS was held on 21-24 December 1996 in Khagrachhari. 

The leaders of PCJSS, recognising the importance of uninterrupted discussions, and as a mark of confidence in the sincerity of the government, agreed to hold subsequent meetings in Dhaka. For the first time in the history of negotiations with PCJSS, the second meeting was held in Dhaka on 25-26 January 1997. Another four rounds of meetings were held in Dhaka on 12-14 March, 1977, 11-15 May, 1997, 14-18 July, 1997 and 14-17 September, 1997. The seventh, that is, the last meeting, between the NCCHT and PCJSS, was held from 26 November to 1 December, 1977. 

  The Peace Accord :   

Both the sides agreed, in the last meeting, to conclude an agreement. An accord entitled "Agreement Between The National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity" was executed in Dhaka on 2 December 1997 in presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 


Salient Features of Accord

The agreement comprises of four parts : A. General; B. Hill District Local Government Council; C. Regional Council; and D. Rehabilitation, General amnesty and Other Matters. The agreement was concluded within the framework of the Constitution reposing full and firm allegiance in the sovereignty of the state and territorial integrity of the country.  The Salient features as of the accord are as follows :  

Part - A : General  

The accord has recognised the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a region populated by tribals, the need for preserving the particular characteristics of the region and the need for its development;  In order to monitor the process of implementation of the agreement, a three member Committee with a convenor, to be nominated by the Prime Minister, is to be formed;  The agreement will come into immediate effect. 

Part - B : Hill District Local Government Council/Hill District Council 

The "Hill District Local government Council" shall be renamed as "Hill District Council (Parbattya Zilla Parishad)". The tenure of the Council shall be five years instead of three;  Land and land administration, local police, tribal law and social justice, youth welfare, environment protection and development, local tourism, improvement trust and other local administrative bodies, except municipalities and Union Parishads, license for local trade and commerce, irrigation from different rivers and canals, except Kaptai lake, jhum cultivation and money lending business, will be the responsibility of the hill district Parishad. 

No khas (government-owned) land in the CHT region can be leased out, purchased, sold or transferred without the permission of the Parishad (Hill District Council). This will not, however, apply to reserved forests, Kaptai hydroelectric project, Betbunia earth satellite station area, state-owned mills and factories and recorded lands of the government; 

The allotment of ‘fringe land’ of Kaptai lake will be made to the original owners on priority basis. Collection of land development tax in the district will be handed over to the Parishad and the collected revenue will be deposited with the Parishad. 

The Council will prepare and implement development projects relating to the transferred subjects with the funds obtained from the government. All development programmes taken at national level shall be implemented through the Council; 

If, in the consideration of the Council, any law enacted by the Parliament appears to be likely to cause distress to the said districts or is found to be objectionable from the point of view of the tribals, the Council may apply to government in writing, stating reasons, for amendment of, or relaxation of application of, such law, and the government may take remedial measures in the matter. 

Part - C : The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council : 

The Chairman of the Regional Council shall be elected indirectly by the elected members of Hill District Council from amongst the tribals. His status shall be that of a State Minister of the government; 

The Council shall be constituted with twenty-five members. There shall be an elected chairman, twelve tribal (male), two tribal (female), six non-tribal (male) and one non-tribal (female) members. The three Chairmen of the Hill District Councils shall be ex-officio members with voting rights; 

The members of the Council shall be elected by the elected members of the three Hill District Councils. The term of the Council shall be five years; 

There shall be a Chief Executive Officer with the rank of a Joint Secretary to the government in the Council and tribals shall be preferred for appointment to this post; 

The Council shall co-ordinate the development activities undertaken by the three Hill District Councils and oversee general administration including law and order. It will also grant license for NGO activities and setting up of heavy industries; 

While formulating law concerning Chittagong Hill Tracts, the government shall make such laws in consultation with or as per advice of Council. In case of amendment of any law, as necessitated, the Council shall be competent enough to apply or submit recommendations to the government; 

Army can be deployed in any area of CHT in case of deterioration of law and order, or in case of natural disaster and for any other purpose like elsewhere in the country under the civilian administrations as per rules. The Regional Council would be able to make a request to the proper authorities in such eventualities. 

Part -D : Rehabilitation, General Amnesty and Other Matters : 

The repatriation and rehabilitation of the tribal refugees shall continue in accordance with the agreement reached between the government and the tribal refugee leaders at Agartala of Tripura on 9 March, 1997. The internally displaced persons of the three hill districts shall be identified and rehabilitated through a Task Force; 

In order to restore normal situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a General Amnesty shall be declared. As to the rehabilitation of the returning members of Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, a sum of Taka 50 thousand shall be given per family at a time; 

A five member Land Commission with a Retired Justice as its head shall be constituted to settle disputes regarding lands and premises; 

PCJSS shall within 45 days of the signing of this agreement submit to the government lists of its members including armed ones and particulars of arms and ammunitions in its possession and within its control. The PCJSS would also surrender arms; 

After the return of the members of Jana Sanghati Samity to normal life, all the temporary camps of the Army, the Ansars and the Village Defence Force, excepting the BDR and permanent Army cantonments and establishments, will be withdrawn; 

A Ministry on Chittagong Hill Tracts shall be established and a Minister from amongst the tribals appointed in this Ministry. 

Other Features : 

Priority would be given to the tribal people for filling in all posts of officials and employees in the government, semi-government and autonomous bodies in the CHT. But if no competent tribal candidate is available, the government would be able to appoint or depute a person to any post.  The government will ensure security of the PCJSS cadres and their families. Those surrendering their arms and ammunition will be entitled to amnesty, which will also cover the non-armed cadres and supporters of the PCJSS. Cases, warrants and convictions in absentia against them will be lifted. 

 The land record and right of possession of the tribal people will be ascertained after finalisation of the ownership of the tribal people. And to achieve this end, the government will start land survey in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and resolve all disputes relating to land through proper scrutiny and verification in consultation with the Regional Council formed under this agreement.  These steps will be taken soon after signing and implementation of this agreement between the government and PCJSS and rehabilitation of tribal refugees and internal tribal refugees.  

The government will ensure leasing two acres of land in the respective locality subject to availability of land of the landless tribals or the tribals having less than two acres land per family. However, groveland can be allotted in case of non-availability of necessary lands.  Lands allotted to non-tribals and non-locals for rubber or other plantations but not utilised properly in the last ten years will be withdrawn from the allotted through cancellation of allotment.  The Regional Council will have an advisory committee drawn from representatives of the three hill district councils, MP’s from the region, Chakma, Bomang and Maung Rajas and non-tribal permanent residents. 


Full-text of the English version translated from original Bangla of the Peace Agreement, Reports BSS. 

Between the National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts constituted by the Government of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh and The Parbattya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity

Signed at the International Conference Centre, Prime Minister's Office, Dhaka on 02 December, 1997. 

Keeping full and unswerved allegiance in Bangladesh’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts region under the jurisdiction of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 

the National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts, on behalf of the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, on behalf of the inhabitants of Chittagong Hill Tracts, 

reached the following agreement in four parts (namely: A.B.C.D) to uphold the political, social, cultural, educational and economic rights of all the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts region, to expedite socio-economic development process and to preserve respective the rights of all the citizens of Bangladesh and their development.  

A. GENERAL:  

1. Both the sides recognized the need for protecting the characteristics and attaining overall development of the region considering Chittagong Hill Tracts as a tribal inhabited region.  

2. Both the parties have decided to formulate, change, amend and incorporate concerned acts, regulations and practices as soon as possible in keeping with the consensus and responsibility expressed in different sections of the agreement.  

3. An implementation committee will be formed to monitor the implementation process of the agreement with the following members:  a) A member nominated by the Prime Minister. Convenor  b) Chairman of the taskforce formed under the purview of the agreement Member  c) President of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity Member  

4. The agreement will come into effect from the date of its signing and execution by both the sides. This agreement will be valid from the date of its effect until all the steps are executed as per the agreement. 

B. CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS LOCAL GOVERNMENT COUNCIL/HILL DISTRICT COUNCIL:  

Both the sides have reached agreement with regard of changing, amending, incorporating and writing off the existing Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain 1989 (Rangamati Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain (1989, Bandarban Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain 1989, Khagrachari Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain 1989) and its different clauses before this agreement comes into force.  

1. The word "tribal" used in different clauses of the Parishad Ain will stay.  

2. The name ‘Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad" will be amended and the name of parshad will be "Parbatya Zila Parishad"  

3. "Non-tribal permanent residents" will mean those who are not a tribal but have legal lands and generally live in hill districts at specific addresses. 

4. a) There will be 3(three) seats for women in each of the Parbatya Zila Parishad. One third (1/3) of these seats will be for non-tribals.  

b) 1,2,3 and 4 sub-clauses of clause 4 will remain in force as per the original act.  

c) The words "deputy commissioner" and "deputy commissioner’s" in the second line of sub-clause (5) of clause 4 will be replaced by "circle chief" and "circle chiefs".  

d) The following sub-clause will be incorporated in the clause 4N "The concerned circle of office will ascertain whether a person is non-tribal or not on the basis of submission of certificate given by concerned mouza headman/union Parishad chairman/pourashabha chairman and no non-tribal person can become the non-tribal candidate without the certificate received from the circle officer regarding this."  

5. In the clause 7 it has been stated that the chairman or any other elected member will have to take oath or give declaration before Chittagong Divisional Commissioner before taking over office. Amending this in place of "Chittagong Divisional Commissioner" the members will take oath or give declaration before "any High Court Division Judge."  

6. The words "to Chittagong Divisional Commissioner" will be replaced by "as per election rules" in the fourth line of clause 8.  

7. The words "three years" will be replace by "five years" in the second line of clause 10.  

8. In clause number 14 there will be provision that a tribal member elected by other members of the Parishad will chair and discharge other responsibilities if the post of chairman falls vacant or in his absence.  

9. The existing clause number 17 will be replaced by the following sentences: A person will be considered eligible to be enlisted in the voters list if he/ she (1) is a Bangladeshi citizen (2) he/she is not below the 18 years (3) appropriate court has not declared him mentally sick (4) he/she is a permanent resident of hill district.  

10. In sub-clause 2 of clause number 20 the words " delimitations of constituencies" will be incorporated independently.  

11. In sub-clause 2 of clause 25 there will be a provision that the chairman of all the meetings of the Parishad or a tribal member elected by other members of the Parishad will chair meetings and discharge other responsibilities if the post of chairman falls vacant or in his absence.  

12. As the entire region of Khagrachari district is not included in the Mong circle, in words "Khagrachhari Mong Chief" in clause number 26 of Khagrachhari Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain will be replaced by the words "Mong circle chief and Chakma circle chief." Similarly, there will be scope for the presence of Bomang chief in the meetings of Rangamati Parbatya Zila Parishad. In the same way, there will be provision that the Bomang circle chief can attend the meetings of Bandarban Parbatya Zila Parishad meetings if he wishes or invited to join.  

13. In sub-clause (1) and sub-clause (2) of clause 31 there will be a provision that a chief executive officer of the status of a deputy secretary will be there as secretary in a Parishad and the tribal officials will get priority in this post.  

14. a) In sub clause (1) of clause 32 there will be a provision that the Parishad will be able to create new posts for different classes of officers and employees for properly conducting the activities of the Parishad. 

b) The sub-clause 2 of clause 32 will be amended as follows: The Parishad can, according to rules, recruit class there and four employees and can transfer, suspend, terminate or given any other punishment. But condition would be that in case of such appointments the tribal residents of the district will be given priority. 

c) As per sub-clause (3) of clause 32, the government, in consultation with the Parishad, may appoint officers for the other posts and there will be legal provision to removed, suspend or terminate or penalize officers as per the government rules.  

15. "As per rules" will be mentioned in Sub-clause (3) of Rule 33.  

16. In the third line of Sub-clause (1) of Rule 36, the words "or in any way devised by the government’ will be deleted.  

17. a) The principal clause of the ‘fourth’ of Sub-clause (One) of Clause 37 will be valid.  b) "As per rules" will be included in Sub-clause (2), D and Rule 37.  

18. Sub-clause (3) of clause 38. Will be cancelled and sub-clause (4) will be amended in conformity with the following text, "a new budget can be prepared and approved, if needed, at any time, before the completion of the previous financial year."  

19. Rules 42 will incorporate the following sub-clause: "The Parishad, with the allocated money from the government, will received, initiate or implement any development project in the transferred subjects and all national level development programmes will be implemented through the Parishad by the concerned ministries/divisions/organizations."  

20. The word "Parishad" will replace the word "government" in the second line of Sub-clause (2) of Rule 45.  

21. Rules 50,51, and 52 will be repealed and following clauses will be introduced:  "If needed, the government will give advice or regulatory directives for streamlining the Parishad activities with the objectives of objectives of the aforesaid rules."  " The government, if the government receives any hard evidence that any activity or proposed activity of the Parishad is violating the aforesaid rules or is inconsistent with it, will have the authority to ask for written information along with explanation. The government will also have the authority to give advice or directives in this regard." 

22. " Within 90 days of abolition of the Parishad" shall be read in place of "after the expiry of defunct period" before the words "the act" under clause 53 sub-clause (3).  

23. The word ‘government’ will be replaced by the word "ministry" in the third and fourth lines in clause 61.  

24. (A) sub-clause (1) in clause 62 will be replaced by the following:  Whatever be the provisions in the currently prevailing laws, hill districts police sub-inspector and below shall be appointed by the Parishad as per the prescribed rules and the Parishad will transfer, and take action against them as per the prescribed rules.  However, the condition will be that tribals of the district will get preference in calse of this appointment. 

25. The words "support will be provided" will remain in third line in clause 63.  

26. Clause 64 will be amended as follows :  a) Whatever exists in the currently prevailing laws, without prior permission of the Parishad, no lands, including leasable khas lands in the district, can be leason out, sold, purchased or transferred.  However, it will not be applicable in case of the reserved forest, Kaptai Hydroelectricity Project area, Betbunia Satellite Station area, state-owned industrial enterprises and lands recorded in the name of the government.  b) Whatever exists in the courrently prevailing other laws, the government cannot acquire or transfer any lands, hills and forests under the jurisdictions of the Hill District Parishad without prior discussion and approval of the Parishad.  c) The Parishad may supervise or control the work of headmen, chairman, amin, surveyors, kanungo and assistant commissioners (land).  d) The fringe land of Kaptai lake will be leased out on priority basis to their original owners. 

27. Clause 65 will be amended to formulate the following: For the time being, whatever law is in force, the development tax of the district will be in the hand of the Parishad and the tax to be collected on that account will be in the fund of the Parishad. 

28. Clause 67 will be amended to formulate the following: Parishad and the government will raise specific proposals if it is necessary for the coordination of the Parishad and the government, and coordination of work will be done through mutual consultations.  

29. Sub-clause (1) of Clause 68 will be amended to formulated the following sub-clause:  With a view to fulfilling the objectives of his law, the government will be able to prepare rules after discussion with the Parishad through gazette notification. Even after the formulation of any rule, the Parishad will have the right to appeal to the government for re-consideration of such rules. 

30. a) In the first and second paragraphs of sub-clause (1) of Clause 69, the words ‘prior approval of the government" will be dropped and following part will be added after the words "should be done" in the third para: 

It is conditional that if the government disagrees with any part of the provision formulated then the government will be able to provide suggestions or directives regarding the provision.  b) In (H) of sub-clause (2) of Clause 69 the words "the power of the chairman will be given to any officers of the Parishad" will be dropped.  

31. Clause 70 will be deleted.  

32. Clause 79 will be amended to formulate the following section:  The Parishad will be able to make written appeal to the government is case it feels that a law passed by the Jatiya Sangsad or any other authority is difficult for the district or objectionable for the tribals after stating the reasons of the difficulty or objection and the government may take appropriate steps for redressal as per the appeal.

33. a) The word supervision will be added after "discipline" in the schedule number one on the activities of the Parishad. 

b) The activities of the Parishad mentioned in number three will be added with the following: 

(1) Vocational education,  (2) Primary education in mother tongue,  (3) Secondary education.  c) The words ‘reserved’ or will be dropped from the first schedule of the activities of Parishad and sub-clause 6(b).  

34. The following subjects will be included in the functions and responsibilities of the hill district parishads: 

(a) Land and land management,  (b) Police (local),  (c) Tribal law and social justice,  (d) Youth welfare,  (e) Environmental protection and development,  (f) Local tourism,  (g) improvement trust and other local government institutions, Barring paurashava and union parishads,  (h) Issue of licence to local industries and business, barring Kaptai water resources, proper use and irrigation of other rivers and canals and beels,  (i) Preservation of statistics of birth and deaths,  (j) Business transactions and  (k) Jum cultivation. 

35. The following subjects and sources will be included for imposition of taxes, rate, toll and fees by the Parishad stated in the second schedule:  (a) Registration fee of manual vehicles,  (b) Tax on buying and selling of commodities,  (c) Holding tax on land on building,  (d) Tax on domestic animals,  (e) Fees of social judgment,  (f) Holding tax on government and non-government industries,  (g) A portion of royalty on forest resources,  (h) Supplementary tax on cinema, jatra and circus,  (i) Partial royalty of contracts by government for search and exploration of mineral resources, (j) Tax on business,  (k) Tax on Lottery,  (l) Tax on catching fish.

C. HILL TRACTS REGIONAL PARISHAD 

1. A regional council will be formed combining the there hill districts local government parishad through amending some clause of three hill districts Local Government Parishad Act 1989 with a view to strengthening and making them effective.  

2. Chairman of the Parishad will be indirectly elected by the elected members of the Parishad. The chairman will enjoy the status of a state minister and he must be a tribal. 

 3. The Parishad will consist of 22 members, including its chairman. Two-thirds of members will be elected from the tribals.  Following is the structure of the Parishad:  Chairman one  Member (tribal) male 12  Member (tribal) female 2  Member (non-tribal) 6  Member (non-tribal) female one  Among the total male tribal members, five will be elected from the Chakma tribe, three form Marma, two from Tripura and one from Morang and Tanchowngae.  Two persons will be elected form every district from the non-tribal male members. In the case of non-tribal female members, one from the Chakma tribe and one from the other tribes will be elected. 

4) Three seats will be reserved from women in the council of which one-third will be non-tribal.  

5) The members of the council will be elected indirectly by the elected members of the three hill district councils. Chairman of the three hill districts will be the ex-officio members of the council and they will have the voting right. The eligibility and non-eligibility of the candidates for the membership of the council will be similar to that of the members of the Hill District Council.  

6) The tenure of the council, will be five years. Budget preparation and its approval, dissolution of council, formulation of council’s regulation, appointment of and control over officers and employees and matters related to concerned subject and procedures will be similar to the subjects and procedures given in favour of and applicable for the Hill District Council.  

7) A principal executive officer equivalent to the Joint Secretary of the government will be appointed in the council and the tribal candidates will be given preference in the appointment of the post. 

 8) a) If the chairman’s post of the council remains vacant, a chairman will be elected indirectly from the other tribal members of the council by the members of the three hill district councils for an interim period.  b) If any post of the member of the council remains vacant for any reason, It will be filled by -election.  

9) a) All the development activities under the direction of three hill district councils will be coordinated by the council, including overall supervision and coordination of matters under the jurisdiction of the three hill district council. The decision of the regional council will be considered final in case of any conflict or lack of coordination in discharging the duties vested upon the three hill district council.  b) The council will coordinate and supervise the local councils, including the municipalities.  c) The regional council may coordinate and supervise the general administration, law and order and matters related to the development of the three hill districts.  d) The council may provide direction in the disaster management and relief programme, including coordination of the NGOs' activities  e) Tribal rules and social justice will be under the jurisdiction of the regional council.  f) The council may provide licence for heavy industries.  

10. Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board will discharge the given duties under the general and overall supervision of the council. The government will give preference to the eligible tribal candidates in appointing the chairman of the development board.  

11. If any contradiction is observed between the Chittagong Hill Tracts Administrative Rules of 1900 and other related laws, acts and ordinances and the Local Government Council Law of 1989, it will be settled as per the advice and the proposals of the regional council.  

12. The government may form and interim regional council and give it the responsibilities of the council until and unless the settled as per the advice and the proposals of the regional council is formed on the basis of direct and indirect election.  

13. The government may formulate any law regarding Chittagong Hill Tracts subject to discussion with the regional council and that will be dones as per the advice of the council.  

14. Fund of the council will be formed form the following sources:  a) Finance received from the district council fund.  b) Finance and profits from all the property which have been provided and directed by the council.  c) Loan and grants from the government and other authorities.  d) Grants provided by any institution or person.  e) Profit from the financial investment of the council.  f) Any of the finance received by the council.  g) Finance received from the other sources of income provided to the council as per the direction of the government.

D. REHABILITATION, GENERAL AMNESTY AND OTHER ISSUES 

Both sides have reached the following position and agreed to take programmes for restoring normal situation in Chittagong Hill Tracts area and to this end on the matters of rehabilitation, general amnesty and others related issues and activities.  

1. An agreement was signed between the government and the tribal refugee leaders on March 9, 1997 at Agartala of Tripura state on bringing back the tribal refugees staying in the state of Tripura. Under this agreement, repatriation of tribal regugees began on March 28, 1997. This process will continue and the leaders of the PCJSS will extend all possible cooperation in this regard. The internal refugees of the three hill districts will be rehabilitated through their proper identification by task force.  

2. The land record and right of procession of the tribal people will be ascertained after finalisation of the ownership of land of the tribal people. And to achieve this end, the government will start land survey in Chittagong Hill Tracts and resolve all disputes relating to land through proper scrnity and verification in consultation with the regional councils to be formed under this agreement. These steps will be taken soon after signing and implementation of this agreement between the government and the PCJSS and rehabilitation of the tribal refugees and internal tribal refugees.  

3. The government will ensure leasing two acres of land in the respective locality subject to availability of land of the landless tribals or the tribals having less than two acres of land per family. However, groveland can be allotted in case of non-availability of necessary lands.  

4. A commission (land commission) will be constituted under a retired judge for the disposal of all disputes relating to lands. Besides settlement of the land disputes of the rehabilitated tribal, this commission will have full power to annual all rights of ownership on land and hill which have so far been given illegal settlements or encroached illegally. No appeal can be made against the verdict of this commission and the decision of this commission will be treated as final. This will be implied in case of fringe land.  

5. This commission will be constituted with the following members:  a) Retired judge:  b) Circle chief (concerned):  c) Chairman representative of the regional council  d) Divisional commissioner/additional commissioner  e) Chairman of the district council (concerned). 

6. a) The tenure of the commission will be of three years. But the tenure can be extended in consultations with the regional council.  b) The commission will resolve disputes on the basis of existing laws, customs and systems of Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

7. The loans, which were obtained by repatriated tribals from government agencies but could not properly utilized owing to conflicting situation, will be exempted with full interest.  

8. Rubber plantation and allotment of other lands: The allotments of lands to non-tribals and non-residents for rubber cultivation and other purposes but not yet utilized the lands for the projects properly during the last ten years will be concelled.  

9. The government will allocate additional finance on priority basis for taking up maximum number of projects to develop Chittagong Hill Tracts. Projects will be implemented on priority basis for construction of infrastructure for the development of the region and the government will allocate necessary funds for this purpose. The government will encourage development of tourism for local and foreign tourists, taking into consideration the environmental aspect of the region.  

10. Reservation of quota and allocation of scholarships: The government will continue the quota system for the tribals in case of government jobs and higher education till they reach at par with the people of other regions of the country. With this aim in view the government will provide more scholarships for tribal boys/girls in educational institutions. The government will provide necessary scholarship for taking education abroad and research pursuit.  

11. The government and the elected representatives will be active to preserve the distinctiveness of the tribal culture and heritage. The government will provide due patronization and assistance for expansion of tribal cultural activities at par with that of the mainstream of the national life.  

12. The PCJSS will submit to the government within 45 days of signing of this agreement the full list of its armed members and description and accounts of all arms and weapons under its control and possession.  

13. The government and the PCJSS will jointly decide the day, date and place for depositing arms by the PCJSS within 45 days of signing of this agreement. The government will ensure all kinds of security for the members of the listed members of the PCJSS and their facilities for coming back to normal life after declaring the day, date and place for depositing arms by the listed members of the PCJSS.  

14. The government will declare amnesty for those members who will deposit arms and ammunition on the scheduled date. The government will withdraw cases lodged earlier against those persons.  

15. The government will take legal action against those who will not deposit arms and ammunition within the stipulated time.  

16. General amnesty will be given to all PCJSS members after they return to normal life and this amnesty will also be given to all the permanent residents who were connected with the PCJSS activities.  

a) Each family of the repatriated members of the PCJSS will be given Taka 50,000 in cash at a time for their rehabilitation. 

b) All cases, warrants of arrest, hulia against any armed member or general member of the PCJSS will be withdrawn and punishment given after trial in absentia will be exempted after surrender of arms and coming back to normal life as soon as possible. The member of the PCJSS, if they are in jail, will be released.  

c) Similarly, no cases will be filed or no punishment be given to any person for mere being the members of the PCJSS after surrendering arms and coming back to normal life.  

d) The loans obtained by the members of the PCJSS from any government banks or other agencies but could not utilized owing to conflicting situation would be exempted with interest.  

e) Those members of the PCJSS who were employed in various government jobs would be absorbed in their respective posts and the eligible members of their family will be given jobs as per their qualifications. In such cases, the government principles regarding relaxation of age will be followed.  

f) Bank loans on soft term will be given to the members of the PCJSS for cottage industry and horticulture and other such self-employment generating activities.  

g) Educational facilities will be provided for the children of the PCJSS and the certificates obtained from foreign board and educational institutions will be considered as valid. 

17. a) Immediately with signing and executing the agreement between the government and the PCJSS and with the members of the PCJSS coming to normal life, all temporary camps of army, ansar and village defence force in Chittagong Hill Tracts excepting Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and permanent cantonments (three in three district headquarters and in Alikadam, Ruma and Dighinala) will be gradually brought back to the permanent places and a deadline for this will be fixed. The members of the armed forces can be deployed under due rules and procedures in case of deterioration of law and order situation and in times of naturral calamities or like other parts of the country under the control of the civil administration. The regional council may request the appropriate authorities for such help and assistance in case of such a necessity and the due time. 

b) The lands to be abandoned by military or para-military camps and cantonments will be either returned to the original owners or to the hill district councils. 

18. The permanent residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts with priority to the tribals will be given appointment to all categories of officers and employees of all government, semi-government, parished and autonomous bodies of Chittagong Hill Tracts. In case of absence of eligible persons among the permanent residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts for particular posts, the government may give appointment on lien or for a definite period to such posts. 

19. A ministry on Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs will be set up appointing one minister from the tribals. The following advisory committee will be constituted to assist this ministry :  1) The Ministry in Charge of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs;  2) Chairman/representative, regional council;  3) Chairman/representative, Rangamati Hill District Council;  4) Chairman/representative, Khagrachhari Hill District Council;  5) Chairman/representative, Bandarban Hill District Council.  6) MP, Rangamati,  7) MP, Khagrachhari,  8) MP, Bandarban,  9) Chakma Raja (King),  10) Bomang Raja,  11) Mong Raja, and  12) Three non-tribal members to be nominated by the government taking one permanent non-tribal resident from each three hill districts.

This agreement is prepared in Bangla and completed and signed in Dhaka on Agrahayan 18, 1404, December 2, 1997.  

On behalf of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Sd/Illegible (Abul Hasnat Abdullah) Convenor, National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts, Government of Bangladesh On behalf of the residents of  Chittagong Hill Tracts  Sd/Illegible (Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma) President, Parbattya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity


The fragility of peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh -  Thomas Feeny

also in PDF - Thomas Feeny graduated from Cambridge University in 1998, and worked as a volunteer in Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal before travelling to Tibet in late 1999. He spent just under a year working for the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, Northern India, where he wrote a paper on Racial Discrimination in Tibet for the World Conference on Racism in South Africa 2001. Earlier this year, he conducted research in Bangladesh for the UNICEF ROSA project on Children Affected by Armed Conflict, and has just returned from presenting his findings at a regional conference in Nepal. He is currently working for INTRAC, editing a manual for NGOs working in conflict-affected areas.

This year, Bangladesh celebrates its 30th birthday as an independent nation state. Compared to other countries in South Asia it is still a relative newcomer, and yet the journey so far has been difficult.

For over 20 years, 10% of the entire country was effectively shut down as a bloody insurgency was fought by tribal groups from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, who felt themselves severely threatened by the government's construction of a national, homogenous identity around Bengali Islamic values. 

Over 400,000 Bengali settlers were transferred to the CHT in the early 1980s  accompanied by approximately one-third of the entire Bangladeshi military for counter-insurgency measures and the issue of minority insecurity suddenly became an international concern. 

30,000 people lost their lives as the politics of ethnicity and its related issues of territoriality, religion and culture within a one-nation context were played out among the thickly forested hills. Only recently was an apparent resolution reached, in the shape of a Peace Accord signed by both government and tribal leaders on 2 December 1997. 

Since then, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has issued numerous assurances that absolute peace prevails in the CHT and that the people living there are not only happy, but jubilant. Life has returned to normal.

This paper sets out to refute these simplistic notions, not merely by exposing the inadequacy of the Accord itself but also by showing how factors such as displacement, terrorism, communalism, militarisation, small arms and drug abuse continue to seriously destabilise the CHT. 

Even after apparent peace has been declared, conflict still persists in various forms at a micro level, and is likely to do so until larger issues securing constitutional protection of ethnic minority groups are addressed.

Background

The CHT has long been a problematic region of Bangladesh, firstly because of its strategic location between India and Burma and secondly because of its unique topography of thick forest. The ethnic inhabitants of the CHT are divided into more than a dozen different tribes (mostly Mongloid/Arakanese origin), and are completely different in appearance, language, religion and culture from Bengalis. 

While the region was afforded special autonomy under British colonial rule, after Partition it fell to Pakistan and was the target of ill-conceived development initiatives such as the 1963 Kaptai dam, which submerged 40% of the total arable land in the CHT and displaced 100,000 tribals. 

After the 1971 War of Independence, the new GoB rejected requests by tribal leaders for autonomy and relocated 400,000 Bengali settlers into the CHT, intensifying competition for resources. 

Over 120,000 soldiers were also relocated to the CHT to  the new arrivals but in fact they simply joined forces in carrying out a variety of human rights atrocities against the tribal people, including more than 12 major massacres. Around 80,000 tribal refugees subsequently fled into the neighbouring Indian state of Tripura.

The Peace Accord

When the Accord was negotiated in December 1997, it included the following salient features:

¡ö decommissioning and deposit of arms by Shanti Bahini (the tribal militant group) under a general amnesty

¡ö rehabilitation of the international refugees and IDPs

¡ö dismantling of non-permanent military camps and the return of soldiers to their regular barracks

¡ö self-government through district and regional councils

¡ö land and resource rights

¡ö recognition of the cultural identity of the indigenous people

There were also a number of important issues that the Accord did not address:

¡ö The Accord is not protected by constitutional safeguards, and is open to amendment or revocation at any time.

¡ö It makes no provision for environmental protection, despite

long-term damage from uncontrolled resource exploitation.

¡ö It ignores the issue of continuing infiltration of illegal settlers into the area.

¡ö It makes no provision for social reconciliation between tribals and Bengalis.

The reaction to the Accord was very mixed. The Awami League (the ruling party at the time) refers to it as a mark of their success, while the BNP opposition refuses to recognise it. It has also caused rifts between tribal groups: while most support the PCJSS (their original political party who negotiated and signed the treaty), many have since transferred their loyalties to the splinter-group, the United Peoples Democratic Front, who assert that full autonomy is the only satisfactory outcome. 

A violent power struggle has ensued, with each of the groups accusing the other of numerous attacks, kidnappings and killings. This internal terrorism  has not only strained the social cohesion of the tribal people but has also heightened levels of mistrust and suspicion between different communities.

Rehabilitation of refugees

The total funds allocated for rehabilitation of the repatriated Jumma refugees was Bangladeshi Taka 370 million (approx US$6.5 million) comprising cash sums and minimal material assistance. Commitments for the creation of employment and provision of educational facilities were also set down in the Accord but there is very little information on their implementation or success so far. What is known is that many returnee families rehabilitated from India are having great difficulty in rebuilding their lives, for a great deal of change was effected in their absence in terms of how the region operates both socially and economically. 

New demographic and economic pressures have introduced different agricultural methods and demands, and the traditional self-provisioning economy of the tribals has been replaced by a market economy determined by external economic forces. Tribals lack the skill and knowledge base to participate effectively within this market, and have been marginalised to remote areas of the CHT where traditional jhum (slash and burn) cultivation is still possible.

Land disputes

Prior to the conflict, tribal communities owned land on a communal basis, and very little documentation was deemed necessary. The new Bengali settlers introduced a new framework of land demarcation whereby written proof was required, which then led to widespread illegal land grabbing.

Many settlers used the conflict to negotiate false contracts in the real owner's absence, while the minimal official documentation that did exist was destroyed in the looting and burning. Today, 3,055 repatriated families (25%) are still unable to reclaim their land, with 40 entire villages occupied by Bengali settlers refusing to leave.

Many families remain in Refugee Transit Camps, where three years have passed without any progress in their cases. Food provision has become a serious problem, and GoB assistance will soon finish. This is in sharp contrast to Bengali settlers living in cluster villages, who have been receiving food rations ever since they arrived. In Khagrachari district alone, where the majority of refugee transit camps are located, there are 80 Bengali villages holding 26,262 families, all of whom continue to receive free rations.

The internally displaced

According to the GoB Task Force on Refugees in the CHT, there are still 128,364 internally displaced families throughout the region, of which 90,208 were classed as tribal and 38,156 non-tribal.

 Failing to qualify for government rehabilitation ration packages, the majority of IDPs continue to suffer starvation conditions, with little or no access to any kind of service. In 1998, a Jumma NGO, Taungya, reported on the IDP populations in Langadu thana and Baghaichhari thana in Rangamati district, where they investigated the deaths of 40 people from malnutrition and lack of medical facilities. Concern was also expressed a year later in the Report to the 17th Working Session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations:

"Most of these displaced people are now living in remote and inhospitable hill and forest areas without a decent livelihood and with no access at all to health-care facilities from the government or other agencies. Many of these people have suffered from severe malnutrition, diarrhoea, dysentery and malaria¡­ The condition of the children, mothers of infants and elderly persons is especially acute."

The GoB's expansion of Reserve Forest areas in the CHT (where agricultural practices are forbidden and where even collecting fuelwood is a crime) also adds to the IDP population, and brings the land crisis to new levels of desperation. Almost the entire Khyang tribe has been evicted without compensation or assistance under this scheme, with tens of thousands of others also at risk.

Communalism

Ethnic tension continues to make the CHT particularly vulnerable to incidences of communal violence, and personal security remains low. Numerous attacks upon houses, villages and temples have been recorded in the last few years, and small-scale disputes have quickly assumed much larger proportions, with a typical pattern of continued aggravated retaliation.

For example, on 6 April 1998, two Bengali children drowned while bathing in the Mayani river in the CHT. Officials who investigated their deaths announced they had died of natural causes but Bengali settlers staged a demonstration the next day, claiming the children had been killed by tribals. Four tribals were then attacked, prompting a protest meeting of tribals on 9 April. While returning home they were again attacked by settlers, and army soldiers, who set fire to many houses.6

Many returnee families are having great difficulty in rebuilding their lives.

Continued militarisation

During the conflict, the CHT underwent unprecedented heavy militarisation. In the early 1980s the total strength of the Bangladeshi army and auxiliary forces in the CHT was calculated to be over 120,000, which at the time provided for one armed soldier for every tribal person.7 Military presence infiltrated every pore of society, and the number of police stations in the region also doubled.

The situation post-Accord has not changed very much, and military presence has become a normal phenomenon of life in the CHT. Although Section 4 (17) of the Agreement provided for the removal of ¡°all temporary camps of army, ansar [paramilitary] and village defence force in the Chittagong Hill Tracts excepting Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and permanent cantonments¡±, it did not specify a deadline by which time this withdrawal should be completed. According to the CHT Commission, three years after the agreement only 32 military camps from over 500 have been dismantled.

Small arms

Bangladesh is sandwiched between the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent (the world's largest producer of drugs and repository of small arms and light weapons respectively), without actually being the primary supplier or user of either. 

More than 20 insurgent groups are also active along its borders and a large number of the arms destined for these areas pass through the CHT.8

23 years of insurgency also brought a significant amount of small arms into the CHT, mainly from bases inside the Indian border. While some of these weapons were handed over to the government after the Peace Accord, a large number have been kept in secret caches, which have been sporadically looted since then. Increasingly easy access to small arms has caused the law and order situation in the CHT to deteriorate in many ways. Incidents of abduction, highway robbery, killing and extortion have become rampant in the three CHT districts since the Accord, with small arms playing a prominent role.

 In February 2001 the lack of security in the CHT became an international concern when three foreigners were kidnapped by guerrillas while working on a project funded by the Danish government. Though they were eventually released unharmed, many innocent civilians fled their homes following military ¡®rescue¡¯ operations.

Drug abuse

It appears from a number of sources that the incidence of drug abuse in the CHT is increasing, notably among unemployed tribal youth.9 Although the Peace Accord provided that tribal adolescents would get special consideration in terms of finding jobs, little has been done and unemployment has become a huge problem. Most adolescents now spend their time drinking, smoking and hanging around in the bazaars, and are particularly vulnerable to drugs. It has also been alleged that political groups such as the PCJSS give away money in order to attract supporters, and are indirectly helping to finance and prolong drug addictions. Some even suspect the police and military of actively encouraging drug abuse among tribal youths, benefiting both financially and socially by propagating the tribals as a dependent underclass, as well as justifying their own presence in the process:

¡°The military continue to spread it, and the police have chosen to ignore it. More and more tribal adolescents are becoming involved because it offers them an escape from the current futility of their situation. This is just one of the ways in which the military continues to oppress our people after the Accord.¡± 10

Conclusion

Many of these problems relate to the difficulties experienced by all minority groups in securing their rights under majority rule. Ethnic minorities are often identified today as subnational groups with potential for sub-state formation, and the response of government state machinery has tended to turn this into a threat to national security warranting forcible repression. 

In the case of the CHT, if the tribal peoples had been accorded basic constitutional recognition and authority concerning the development and exploitation of resources in their area, 20+ years of insurgency might well have been avoided. The problem now is that the very same factors that prompted the original conflict ¡ª displacement, ill-conceived development, communalism and resource competition ¡ª are once again creating unrest in the CHT.

1. Statement of the Press Wing, Prime Minister¡¯s Office, Government of Bangladesh, ¡®The Chittagong Hill Tracts: The Post Accord Situation¡¯, 1999.

2. Statistics from the Jumma Refugee Welfare Association and the District Commissioner¡¯s Office, Khagrachari, 1999.

3. Philip Gain ¡®Facts that Count for the Chittagong Hill Tracts¡¯ in Philip Gain (ed) The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk, Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), July 2000, p120.

4. Intervention by Mr Mrinal Kanti Tripura, Secretary, Trinamul, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Agenda Item 6 (Indigenous Peoples & Health: Follow-up and Recent Developments) to the 17th Session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Geneva, 26-30 July 1999.

5. See Philip Gain ¡®Expansion of Reserved Forests Complicates Land Issues in the CHT¡¯, Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), Earth Touch, No 5 October 1999, p26.

6. Information taken from CHT Commission Life is not Ours: Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, 2000, p42.

7. Survival International ¡®Genocide in Bangladesh¡¯, Survival International Review, No 43, London, 1984, p13.

8. See Dipankar Banerjee (ed) South Asia at Gunpoint ¨C Small Arms and Light Weapons Proliferation, Regional Centre For Strategic Studies, Sri Lanka, 2000.

9. Interviews with Rupayan Dewan (CHT Regional Council) and Indrani Chakma (UNICEF), Rangamati, March 2001.

10. Interview with Rupayan Dewan, CHT Regional Council Member, 20 March 2001.

27 FMR 11 The fragility of peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh The very same factors that prompted the original conflict are once again creating unrest in the CHT.

 

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