At least 32 political murders since December
The killing of 7 people, at least three of them political activists belonging to the Chittagong Hill Tracts-based United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), brought to 32 the number of such political murders in the region since December last.
They started the same month as the 20th anniversary of the signing of the CHT Peace Accords on December 2, and within weeks of the sudden splintering of the UPDF, that marked the birth of the breakaway UPDF (Democratic), led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma (alias Borma), the previous November 15.
Tapan Chakma would eventually turn into one of the victims of the ensuing turf war, in the bloodiest single incident prior to Saturday, when he along with four others were killed as they were on their way to attend the last rites of the slain Advocate Shaktiman Chakma, chairman of Naniarchar upazila parishad and a leader of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma), which itself is a breakaway faction of the Shantu Larma-led PCJSS, and is said to ally itself with the UPDF (Democratic).
Prior to those killings, the majority of the victims were members or supporters of UPDF. Two of the victims included in the count were members of the Awami League’s local units. The first actual victim of the turf war was actually UPDF activist Anal Bikash Chakma, who was shot dead on December 16. This was the first death that UPDF attributed to its breakaway faction.
Within weeks, top UPDF leader Mithun Chakma was shot dead on January 3. UPDF again accused UPDF (Democratic) of the murder, alleging also that the new group was working in cahoots with the army.
Mithun’s murder in broad daylight following a court appearance drew international attention. Amnesty International called upon the Bangladesh authorities to hold a rigorous investigation, without delay, into the murder of indigenous human rights defender. A feature of the aftermath to the killings seems to be that the police investigations go nowhere, eventually hit a dead end, and die down.
The pattern has persisted throughout. UPDF activist Dilip Kumar Chakma was shot dead on February 17; Subhash Chakma was shot dead in Dighinala, Khagrachhari four days later, while another activist, Natun Mani Chakma, was murdered on March 11. None of these murders have led to any arrests or even much headway by the authorities.
On April 12, UPDF’s Jony Tonchongya was murdered in Naniarchar, within hours of which a PCJSS (MN Larma) activist in the area, Sadan Chakma, was also killed. It’s unclear whether the two murders were linked, or specifically if Sadan’s murder was an act of vengeance for the killing of Jony.
By this time it was alleged by the UPDF and its various affiliated organizations that include the Hill Women’s Federation (HWF), the Democratic Youth Forum, and the Pahari Chhatra Parishad, that UPDF (Democratic) and PCJSS (MN Larma) had entered into an alliance. The killings on May 4, as a UPDF (Democratic) contingent was on its way to attend the funeral of the slain PCJSS (MN Larma) leader, seemed to confirm that.
On April 16, Surjo Bikash Chakma, said to be a UPDF supporter, lost his life in Khagrachari, and UPDF leader Sunil Bikash Tripura was killed in a shootout at Panchhari Upazila in Khagrachari on April 22. Both were blamed by UPDF on the PCJSS (MN Larma), also sometimes known as the JSS (Reformists).
Alongside all this bloodshed, two activists of the HWF, Manti Chakma, general secretary of HWF central committee, and Doya Sona Chakma, general secretary of the organisation’s Rangamati unit, were abducted and remained missing for a month, before being released on April 20.
Upon their release, they accused the UPDF (Democratic) of being the abductors. Doyasona has accused UPDF (Democratic) of being behind the abduction, and that they were later joined by activists of the JSS (Reformist).
Then came the killings of May 3-4, which brought the number of such killings to 18 in the space of six months, and marked an escalation in the conflict.
Three members of UPDF were shot dead in their sleep at Korolyachari under Baghaichari upazila in Rangamati in the early hours of May 28. The deceased were Sushil Chakma alias Sanjit, 45, of village Balurhat, Atal Chakma, 40, of village Balukhali and Sugorchugo Chakma alias Smriti Chakma, 50, of village Baghaihat Gongarammukh under Baghaichari upazila. The trio were staying together with another UPDF member who was injured in the attack.
UPDF organizer Michael Chakma alleged that members of PCJSS (MN Larma) had launched the attack.
Within 3 weeks, in the space of 48 hours, two activists of the PCJSS (MN Larma) and one member of UPDF (Democratic) were killed on June 17-18.
PCJSS (MN Larma) activists Suren Bikash Chakma and Bijay Tripura were shot dead separately in their homes in Rangamati and Khagrachari respectively, while UPDF (Democratic) activist Boli Chakma was shot to death following a gunfight at Dosarpara Steel Bridge area under Langadu upazila in Rangamati.
On July 27, two people were killed in a gunfight that broke out at Betagichhara of Bagaichhari upazila in Rangamati, although only one of them - David Chakma of the JSS (Reformist) - was identified as a political activist. The other deceased person, Bon Kusum Chakma, identified just as a local, may have been caught up in the crossfire. Including her would bring the number of political killings at this point to 26. Otherwise it stood at 25.
That was till August 17, a Saturday, in the bloodiest incident till date, that saw six people gunned down at Swanirbhar in Sadar upazila around 8am in the morning.
The identities of just three of the dead have been confirmed so far, and they all belong to the UPDF and its affiliated organizations. They are Tapan Chakma, district unit president of UPDF-backed Pahari Chhatra Parishad, another leader Elton Chakma, and Ganatrantrik Jubo Forum leader Polash Chakma, also backed by the Prasit Khisha-led UPDF.
Later in the day in a separate incident, another UPDF activist was killed. This now has all the markings of an all-out turf war, even as the so-called peace process grows more and more to resemble a pipe dream. So that even in the midst of the most breathtaking vistas of this Earth’s natural beauty, the sense of a heightened unease, a constant struggle deep within, a disturbance right at the core of being, is once again ever-present in the Hill Tracts.