The speakers at the sixth regional dialogue in hill town Rangamati (July 07, 2006) demanded withdrawal of what they said was unofficial martial law, full implementation of the peace accord, and land rights for the indigenous people.
Speaking at the discussion organised jointly by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), The Daily Star, Prothom Alo and Channel i, they said the army rule has yet to end in the three hill districts although a peace accord was signed between the government and the main insurgent groups in 1997.
Stressing the need for reforms in the political system and a co-ordinated development process, the discussants said the people in the hill districts are still deprived of many civil rights.
Citing as an example of discrimination, they said the area has been kept out of the mobile phone network on the pretext of maintaining security. They called for the hill districts to be brought under the network.
Many of the participants sought co-operation of the national leaders in bringing an end to their miseries. Neither the prime minister nor the leader of the opposition has visited the hill tracts in the last four and a half years, they complained.
They demanded a guarantee that the minority communities will not be subjected to torture after general elections.
Eminent academics and professionals, development and cultural activists, public representatives and political leaders and other civil society representatives of the district took part in the dialogue held as part of a series of dialogues on ‘National Election 2007: Civil Society Initiative for Accountable Development’.
Chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Regional Council and President of Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma was the chief guest while Executive Director of the CPD Debapriya Bhattacharya was the moderator.
Former chairman of Rangamati Local Government Council and President of CHT Land Rights and Protection Committee Gautam Dewan chaired the discussion and Deputy Minister for CHT Affairs Moni Swapan Dewan and Chingkew Roaza were present as the special guests.
Chakma Circle Chief Barrister Devashish Roy and noted scientist and Chittagong University teacher Jamal Nazrul Islam, members of the ‘Nagorik Committee 2006’, were present at the four-hour meeting to receive public feedback.
Editor of the Prothom Alo Motiur Rahman spoke on behalf of the organisers.
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said most of the provisions in the peace accord remain unimplemented leading to ceaseless disturbances in the hilly areas.
He said all elections in the region must be held on the basis of voter lists prepared in light of the peace treaty.
Larma said “I don’t think those who were elected in the past from the CHT could carry out their responsibilities properly”.
Gautam Dewan in his address said, “We have always been kept outside the mainstream of country’s politics.”
He said he hopes that such discussion would help in preparing a vision paper for the nation.
“We see military interference in every single activity in the hill districts,” said Shaktipada Tripura, a member of Rangamati Headmen’s Association. He demanded immediate withdrawal of the army after an operation.
Suresh Kumar Chakma, a UP chairman, demanded a separate ministry and constitutional recognition for the indigenous people.
Addressing as the special guest, Deputy Minister for CHT Affairs Moni Swapan Dewan underscored the need for a national vision and a sea change in the existing political culture.
Criticising the roles of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Bangladesh, Jamal Nazrul Islam said the donors are pouring millions of dollars in the hill tracts without leaving any positive impact on the society.
He warned the government and the army against sponsoring a development agenda with a bad intention in the hill tracts.
The top two political leaders are driving the country to the edge of destruction, he observed.
Expressing solidarity with the struggle of the hills people, Motiur Rahman said overall problems of the country cannot not be resolved without solving the crisis in the hilly areas.
Heavy downpour throughout the day could not deter people from attending the dialogue. The participants thanked the organisers for giving them the opportunity to express their views.
Among others, Rangamati Pourashava Chairman Habibur Rahman Habib, President of Rangamati Chamber of Commerce and industries Kazi Nazrul Islam, President of Rangamati Press Club Sunil Kanti Dey, General Secretary of BNP district unit Zahir Ahmed, General Secretary of Rangamati Communist Party Dilip Dev, President of Khagrachhari Headmen’s Association Santachita Chakma Bakul, Advocate Shaktiman Chakma, Priodarshi Chakma, Dulal Kanti Sarker, Rocky Chakma, Mamunur Rashid Mamun, Sukumar Dewan, Moulana Mohammad Shahjahan and Konishka Chakma attended the dialogue.