19 new camps set up in CHT in two years, repression increasing

Photo: Army camp at the site of the Shijakamukh Buddhist monastery

Hill Voice, 4 February 2021, Special Correspondent: Instead of withdrawing all the temporary army camps from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) as per the CHT Accord signed in 1997 aiming at resolving the CHT problem through political and peaceful means, the Bangladesh government has been setting up new army camps and re-establishing camps in place of the withdrawn camps. It has been alleged that 19 new army camps have been set up or are in the process of being set up in the three hill districts from 2019 to January 2021.

The establishment of army camps is accompanied by militarization, military authority in all spheres of public life, and human rights violations including the extra-judicial killing, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, repression, military operations in villages, beatings, harassment, threats, house searches, etc.

It may be mentioned that the government and the army have been violating the terms of CHT Accord which provides to withdraw all the temporary camps of the army, Ansar and Village Defense Party (VDP) except the Border Guard Force (BDR/BGB) and the permanent cantonments (three in the three district headquarters and Alikadam, Ruma and Dighinala) from CHT.

After the signing of the CHT Accord, the government has withdrawn only 66 temporary camps in two phases in 1998-1999 and 35 temporary camps in 2009-2013. There are still more than 400 temporary camps in the CHT. Moreover, in violation of the Accord, in 2001, the Sheikh Hasina government imposed de facto military rule named ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment).

Instead of handing over the powers of self-government including general administration, law and order, police, land and land management, forest and environment, development, etc. to the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils established under the special governance system in the CHT as per CHT Accord, all these powers and functions have been handed over to the army and intelligence forces deployed in CHT through imposing ‘Operation Uttoron’ in 2001.

Although the Sheikh Hasina-led present government that signed the Accord has been in power for the last 12 years since 2009, the government has completely shut down the implementation process of the Accord in the one hand, and it is setting up new army camps or is in the process of setting up new ones on the other. Instead of a political and peaceful solution to the CHT problem through the implementation of the CHT Accord, the government has now resorted to the solution of the problem through de facto military means.

In the two years from 2019 to 2020 alone, 17 new army camps are set up or being re-established and in the process of being set up in the three hill districts. In addition, in January 2021 alone, the army re-established two army camps in Jurachari by employing local Jumma villagers without pay and set up a new army camp in Burighat Union of Nanyachar with a lease of 7 acres of land from a Jumma villager only for Tk 7,000 per annum.

Besides, in most of the 100 camps that were withdrawn after signing the Accord, the army put up signboards stating, “This is a site of abandoned camp by the security forces, construction of any kind of permanent / temporary installation is completely prohibited in this place.”

Needless to say, the acceleration of militarization and the start of the process of setting up new army camps have had a profound negative impact on the public life of Jumma people in the region. This is threatening the normal life and livelihood of the Jumma people and creating an atmosphere of fear among them.

As a result, the occupation of lands belonging to Jumma people by various government and non-government quarters and Bengali settlers has increased. Violence against Jumma women by outsider Muslim Bengalis, including the security forces, compelling Jumma villagers for forcible labour (without payment) by the security forces, and illegal torture upon Jumma people have intensified.

According to the annual human rights report of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), in 2020, there were 139 human rights violations by the army, BGB and police. In these incidents, 3 people were extrajudicially killed, 50 were arrested illegally and 49 were detained for time being, 54 were beaten and harassed and 6 of them were seriously injured, 104 houses were searched and 25 houses including 20 temporary shops were vandalized.

Instead of implementing the provisions of the CHT Accord to establish self-government for the permanent residents of CHT including the Jumma people, the reality has been created that the Jumma people continue to be powerless and disenfranchised.

List of newly established army camps in 2019-January2021 are follows:

  1. Shijokmukh Army Camp in Sarboatli Union of Baghaichhari Upazila: This camp was set up on 25 April 2019 after forcibly occupying the land of Shijokmukh Sarbojonin Buddha Bihara.
  2. Lulongchhari Camp in Jurachhari Union of Jurachhari Upazila: It was withdrawn in 1997 after the CHT Accord. But on 14 June 2019, the camp was set up there again. On 11 January 2021, a group of army led by a captain took up position in the Jokshabazar army camp at Jurachhari Sadar. On the same day, the army convened a meeting with theKarbaris of the nearby Jumma village. At the meeting, the commander of the army instructed the Karbaris to send five men from each village for erecting the camp. According to the order, the army forced the villagers to clear the jungle on the site of the abandoned camp for two days on January 13-14. The villagers were not paid.
  3. Jameshchhari Army Camp in Maidung Union of Jurachhari Upazila: It was withdrawn in 1997 after the CHT Accord. But in June 2019, the camp was set up there again.
  4. Dangachhara Camp in Bangaltuli Union of Baghaichhari Upazila: A new army was set up in Dangachhara village under 12 Bir Zone of army on 7 August 2019.
  5. Fakiratila Camp in Marishya Union of Baghaichhari Upazila: A new camp was set up in Fakira Tilla (Muslim Block and Tulaban) area under 12 Bir Baghaihat Zone of army on 21 October 2019.
  6. Merangchhara Army Camp in Kengrachhari Union of Bilaichhari Upazila: This camp was also withdrawn after the Accord. But on 28 April 2020, a group of 42 soldiers led by Major Abdullah, the deputy commander of Bilaichhari Army Zone, inspected the site and announced the establishment of the camp.
  7. Baradam-Dheppochhari army camp in Mogban union of Rangamati Sadar upazila: This camp was also withdrawn after the Accord. However, from 31 May 2020, a group of the army started stationing there and clearing the jungle at the land owned by Pratap Dewan. Army members are staying at the site erecting tents.
  8. Madanpara Army Camp in Aimachhara Union of Barkal Upazila: This camp was also withdrawn after the Accord. However, from April 29, 2020, the process of re-establishing the camp started.
  9. Merangchhara Marma Para Army Camp in Kerachhari Unionof Belaichhari Upazila:Setting up of this camp has been startedfrom 5 May 2020.
  10. Hatimuro army camp in Pakshimuro area of ​​Hafchhari union of Guimara upazila: A group of army members from Mahalchhari army zone took position at that place for three days from 26-30 June 2020 and started setting up camp. At that time, the army members called some Karbaris from the nearby village and instructed the people not to go there. It is to be noted that the locals took the initiative to build a Buddhist temple there long ago. But in the end, the army stopped setting up Buddhist temple and later set up acamp.
  11. Para No. 9 Army Camp in Sajek Union of Baghaichhari Upazila: At the end of 2019, the camp of Army Engineering Construction Battalion (ECB) was set up there by occupying 5.0 acres of traditional land of Rupayan Chakma.
  12. Expansion of Bilaichhari Army Zone in Ward No. 4 of Bilaichhari Sadar Union of Bilaichhari Upazila: Bilaichhari Army Zone is putting pressure on various 9 Jumma families to give up and sell their land for expansion of zone and construction of roads for the camp.
  13. Chitmaram Temporary Army Camp in Chitmaram Union of Kaptai Upazila: A new camp called ‘Chitmarang Temporary Camp’ was set up in Chitmarang Union occupying 5.0 acres of land for three Jumma villagers.
  14. Mitingachhari Para Army Camp in Kaptai Upazila: The new army camp has been set up in Mitingachhari Para under Kaptai Sena Zone of 23E Bengal Regiment of Kaptai Upazila.
  15. Kista Para (Tripura Para) Army Camp in Remakri Pransa Union of Ruma Upazila: From October 10 to October 14, 2020, a five-day military operation was carried out in 9 villages of Remakri Pransa Union in Ruma Upazila of Bandarban District. After the operation, the army members returned to the barracks on 15 October, but the army reportedly took the initiative to set up a new camp on the land of Lawrence Tripuraof Kista Para.
  16. Dobakaba-Nabhanga Army Camp in Ward No. 7 of Fatikchhari Union of Kaukhali Upazila: From 22 November 2020, a group of army personnel with 15/16 Bengali settlers started setting up army camps by cutting down plantation of Niten Chakma. In the same way, the army started cutting bamboo and teak plantation of Sunirmal Chakma of Nabhanga village from 23 November.
  17. Kainda Para Army Camp in Balukhali Union of Rangamati Sadar Upazila: The army camp set up at that place from where the camp was closed down in 1996 before signing the CHT Accord. But on November 5, 2020, a group of 12 soldiers from the Morichyabil army camp in Balukhali under the control of Jurachhari army zone came to the place owned by Rahim Kanti Tanchanga and hung a signboard on a tree. The signboard declares, “This place is a site of an abandoned camp by the security forces, construction of any kind of permanent / temporary establishment in this place is completely prohibited.”
  18. Kathaltuli Army Camp in Jurachhari Union of Jurachhari Upazila: On 14 January 2021, an army team led by Warrant Officer Nurul Alam of Shilchhari Army Camp under Banjogichhara Army Zone stationed at a place of abandoned army camp in Kathaltuli village of Jurachhari Union for the purpose of setting up new camp.
  19. Aung Jalya Para Camp in Burighat Union of Nanyachar Upazila: On 20 January 2021, a group of army members from Nanyachar Army Zone and Burighat Army Zone started the work of setting up the army camp by forcibly occupying the land of Jyotilal Chakma without his consent. The construction materials of the army camp were taken away on January 22, 2021. At present there are about 30-35 army members stationed there.