By Vatican News
The Catholic Church has called for an end to political rivalry and deadly violence in the restive Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh, following the killing of several members of an ethnic political party.
Unknown gunmen opened fire in the house of a leader of the MN Larma rival faction of Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) in Bandarban district on July 7, killing six and critically injuring three.
Bandarban Superintendent of Police, Zerin Akhtar, said they are working to find out and arrest those behind the killings. The violence has spread panic among people in the area and authorities deployed police and soldiers on patrols, he added.
Armed rivalry among factions
The MN Larma splinter group is blaming PCJSS for the killings.
The CHT has been long troubled by a political and armed conflict between the government and the PCJSS and its armed wing, the Shanti Bahini, over the issue of autonomy and the land rights of the indigenous (Jumma) people, mainly the Chakma people.
Since the 1980s, the state-sponsored mass influx of Bengali Muslim settlers to change the demographic balance of the region led to communal tensions and violence.
In the last 22 years, more than 600 people have been killed in turf wars among the PCJSS, the MN Larma faction and two other local rival parties. Abductions and retaliatory assaults are not rare, with no one claiming responsibility.
Chittagong Church urges peace
The CHT, bordering India and Myanmar, is Bangladesh’s only mountainous region and home to about 25 ethnic indigenous groups, mostly Buddhists and also some Christians. About two-thirds of the 32,000 Catholics hail from ethnic groups.
The CHT Regional Commission for Justice and Peace of the Chittagong Archdiocese has condemned this week’s killings and called for an end to violence in the region. “Violence in the CHT spreads panic among priests who travel to villages under the surveillance of various political parties, and our people also live in fear. All kinds of violence must end and peace must be established,” Father Albert Soren, the Commission coordinator told UCA News
He pointed out that the local Church has tried to bring the various rival groups and the government to talks but has met with little success.
Sanjeeb Drong, secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF), an ethnic rights group, also deplored the violence. An ethnic Garo Catholic, Drong called on the government to ensure the safety and security of citizens.
He blamed the unrest and violence in the region on the failure of the government to implement the 1997 CHT peace accord, unresolved land disputes between indigenous people and Bengali settlers, and divide-and-rule politics. (Source: UCANews)