Hill Voice, 28 September 2022, International Desk: In a press statement issued by its three Co-Chairs, Sultana Kamal, Elsa Stamatopoulou and Myrna Cunningham Kain today Wednesday (28 September), the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHT Commission) expresses grave concern over the ongoing violence in Lama Upazila of Bandarban district. On 30 April 2022, the Commission released a press statement and demanded an impartial investigation against Lama Rubber Industries Limited, who allegedly grabbed a vast amount of land and set fire to around 100 acres of Jum land belonging to the Mro and Tripura indigenous communities in Langkom Karbari Para.
The Commission wholeheartedly thanks various government, non-government, and civil society organizations who came forward and provided food and material support to the families affected by the fire and initiated investigations. The Commission particularly praises the initiative taken by the Bandarban Hill District Council (HDC) which sent a fact-finding team and submitted a report with recommendations to resolve the issue. The team found evidence that the Lama Rubber Industry was responsible for setting fire to the Jum land of local indigenous peoples with the intention to grab their land. Based on their findings, the Committee recommended canceling the lease of the Lama Rubber Industry immediately as they had violated the lease terms.
Unfortunately, despite attempts from various organizations and networks to ensure that the local indigenous peoples are provided justice, the influential Lama Rubber Industry still continues to intimidate and attack the local Jumma villagers in various ways. For instance, on 30 July 2022, goons from Lama Industry attacked and seriously injured Rangdhajan Tripura, convener of Bhumi Raksha Sangam Committee. The Lama Rubber group filed three fabricated court cases so far against Rangdhajan and other indigenous villagers who have been trying to resist the land grabbing. On 2 August, the land grabbers attacked and ransacked the Ashoka Buddhist temple at Rengyen Karbari Para. On 1 September, they allegedly looted 25 maunds of pumpkins from the gardens belonging to the local Mro people. On 6 September, workers from the Lama Rubber Company allegedly mixed poison into the water of a stream, the only source of drinking water for the residents of Rengyen Karbari Para. Further, very recently, on 26 September, the Lama Rubber Company allegedly cut down about 300 banana plants of the local Mro people.
Bypassing the customary land rights of the Jumma, leasing land out to outsiders for commercial and non-commercial purposes started in CHT in the mid-1980s, which caused the displacement of many indigenous communities. Section 8 of the Part D of the CHT Accord clearly outlines how leases of unused land should be cancelled. However, this clause and the Accord are yet to be implemented. In the Bandarban district alone, a total of 46,775 acres of land divided into 1871 plots were leased out to influential outsiders for horticulture and rubber plantations. These influential outsiders remain a hindrance to solving the land dispute in CHT, vis a vis, implementing the CHT Accord.
The CHT Commission hopes that the government will walk in the spirit of the CHT Accord and take action against those who have violated the terms of their lease. The Commission urges the government to cancel the lease of the Lama Rubber Industry immediately, as recommended by the fact-finding team of the Bandarban HDC. They also request the government to take legal measures against those who carried out the various violent acts against the Indigenous Peoples of Lama. The Commission also urges the government to provide protection and security to the local indigenous community and to withdraw all the fabricated court cases filed against them.