Government representatives from Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) yesterday said resolving land disputes, dismantling local armed groups, and ensuring rehabilitation of those displaced by Kaptai Lake are some of the major challenges in ensuring stability and prosperity in the region.
Institutions formed in line with the CHT Accord of 1997 -- including the CHT Affairs Ministry and CHT Regional Council -- have to work effectively, they observed at a roundtable.
Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies (ICLDS), a think tank, arranged the roundtable on “Overall Development of Chattogram Hill Tracts: Importance of Harmony and Coexistence” at Jatiya Press Club.
Speaking at the roundtable, Sudarshan Chakma, chairman of Baghaichhari upazila in Rangamati, said to resolve the problems affecting CHT people, fundamental issues have to be identified first.
The CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission which was formed about two decades ago still has not managed to play an effective role in resolving hill people’s land-related problems, he said, adding that the government has to be committed to this end.
“A land survey should be done first in CHT,” he said. This will help in assessing land there accurately and ensure coexistence of hill and Bengali communities.
Remote areas of the region are still left out of development activities, said Babul Chowdhury, chairman of Lakkhichhari upazila.
Rise of local armed groups has created obstacles and posed threats to people’s lives in recent times, said Rangamati Sadar upazila Chairman Shahiduzzaman Mohsin.
At least four armed groups are involved in extortion in different areas, he alleged.
Rafiqul Alam, mayor of Khagrachhari municipality, said questions still remain whether initiatives taken for bringing peace in the region have worked.
“If the initiatives worked, why are bloodshed and armed conflicts still happening?” he questioned.
Although significant development has been made and people’s living standards have also changed, peace still remains elusive in CHT, he said.
Speaking as chief guest, CHT Affairs Minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing said at present development projects worth about Tk 8,500 crore are underway in the CHT region.
The prime minister has directed to speed up the peace process there, he said, adding that recently rules for the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act has been finalised and it will be formulated soon.
Chairing the roundtable, Muhammad Zamir, former ambassador and chairman of ICLDS, said CHT has great potential and destabilising the region should not be allowed.
“The region’s importance comes to the fore significantly in light of present day regional and international politics, especially ‘potential risk’ imposed by Myanmar on Bangladesh like the Rohingya crisis, increase of maritime importance of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, and because of the rise of both China and India as well as their ‘rivalry’,” said Prof Delwar Hossain of Dhaka University’s international relations department.
Indigenous community leader Sanjeeb Drong said, “To bring peace, hill people’s problems should be seen from their perspective.”
Referring to increase in violence against women, Prof Amena Mohsin of DU’s international relations department said mutual respect for each other is necessary to ensure coexistence of hill and Bengali population.
Presenting a keynote paper, former caretaker government adviser CM Shafi Sami said slow implementation of the CHT Accord was a reason for delay in bringing peace to the region.
Moderating the roundtable, Editor of Bangla daily Bhorer Kagoj Shyamal Dutta said they would arrange similar roundtables in the CHT districts soon.
Bhorer Kagoj and private television channel Ekattor TV were media partners.