UN initiates steps to aid Bangladesh hill tribesmen
RANGAMATI: Five years after a peace treaty was signed in Bangladesh’s south eastern hill tracts region, security concerns remain but the UN is seeking to help tribes people who hope peace is round the corner.
“The hill tracts is a sufficiently safe area for starting development activities although there are a few pockets one has to be cautious about,” Michael Heyn of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) told AFP Saturday in this south eastern hill district.
“The security situation would be constantly monitored and daily reports kept, but the main issue is that development will bring about a change in the situation,” he said.
Asked about the conflict between pro- and anti-peace pact groups, Heyn said “we have talked to all sides and they agree that development comes first, which is very encouraging.
“I think we have a partnership and we will involve young people from the hamlets and once the development starts I hope and expect life will improve then,” he said.
He said criminality in the hills was much lower than in other Bangladeshi districts.
Heyn was speaking as the UN agency opened its office in Rangamati Saturday to launch a one-year development plan costing five million dollars.
Of that amount, UNDP will provide two million dollars and the rest is expected to come from Australia and the United States.
A peace pact was signed in 1997 ending more than two decades of an insurgency that killed 2,500 people, according to official figures.
Rangamati is among Bangladesh’s three tribal hill districts covering 13,300 square kilometres of rugged area and having a total population of 1.2 million.
Violence is endemic in this scenic region, bordering India and Myanmar, as the pro-peace tribes belonging to the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity clashed with the United People’s Democratic Front leaving at 231 people dead and scores injured over the past five years, officials said.
The front wants outright autonomy for the region.
“The peace treaty had promised many good things for the tribal population, but nothing has been provided so far,” said Sriti Sankar Chakma, a 70-year old resident of the region’s dominant Chakma tribe.
A priority as far as residents are concerned, is to settle a vexed land issue emanating from an old government plan to settle Bengali-speaking Muslims from the plains on tribal land, Chakma said.
He said development programmes, including a good road network to connect the remote hill areas, should resume immediately.
In 2001 development work was stopped after three Western construction engineers working in the region were kidnapped. They were later rescued unharmed. Western donors have promised millions of dollars in development aid for the hilly region but insist security must be ensured.
The UNDP assessed the situation last year and said the area was “mostly safe” to start development work. A security official told AFP in Rangamati that conflict was now confined to the two tribal groups. “We just go when trouble breaks out and calm them,” he said. The development process would not involve the army as the district has civil administration and police would be consulted for security matters, UN officials said. —AFP