Published on 12:00 AM, January 03, 2023

Over a dozen Mro houses torched in Bandarban

Victims point finger at rubber company

Attackers torched and vandalised at least a dozen homes in Mro community in a village in Bandarban's Lama upazila early yesterday.

The victims alleged that the attack was carried out by people of a rubber plantation to drive them away from the area, but the plantation company denied it and said that the indigenous people were building houses on company land.

The attackers also looted mobile phones, household utensils, poultries, cattle and clothes of the villagers.

The incident took place at Rengyan Mro Para of Sorai union of the upazila around 1:00am yesterday.

The villagers said over 100 people with sticks came to the Mro para on several trucks and attacked the village.

Rengain Karbari, the village leader, said, "We were asleep at night. We were woken by the hue and cry of people. Through the bamboo wall, I saw that three to four houses were burning.

"I saw 10-15 Bangalees coming towards my house and I, along with my family, hid in the nearby bushes. Failing to get me, they ransacked the house and left," he told The Daily Star.

"Seven houses have been set on fire. Five to six houses have been demolished. I have come to know that five to six mobile phones were looted," he added.

"The attack was led by Delwar, Nuru and Mohsin, who are people of the owner of Lama Rubber Industries," Rengain Karbari claimed.

Another villager, Chamrul Mro, said, "Some families of our villages were setting up some new houses in the area. The rubber company's people noticed it and over the last few days, they were trying to stop the Mro people from constructing new structures.

"Even on Sunday noon, some people of the rubber company came to our village and asked our villagers not to set up new houses. Then, the attack was launched on that night," he added.

Contacted, Kamal Uddin, Lama Rubber Industries Limited's manager, denied the allegations.

"I don't know anything about the arson attack at the village. I have heard that the villagers are building new houses on our 400 acres of land. That place is ours, not theirs."

Contacted, Lama Police Station's Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shahidul Islam Chowdhury said, "The Mro community people have informed me about the incident. Police have already visited the spot. We are investigating. Legal action will be taken against those involved."

Bandarban Deputy Commissioner Yasmin Parvin Tibrizi told The Daily Star, "There has been a dispute between the villagers and the rubber company for a long time. We will investigate the matter."

"If the rubber company is involved in the incident, we will take strict action against them," she added.

Three villages -- Rengyan Mro Para, Langkom Mro Para and Joychandra Tripura Para -- are next to one another and the indigenous people of the three villages mainly depend on jhum cultivation.

The villagers alleged that Lama Rubber Industries Limited has been trying to evict indigenous people from the area to grab their land.

Three organisations, that work to establish rights of indigenous people, in a joint statement condemned the attack and demanded punishment for the attackers.

The organisations are: Gonotantrik Jubo Forum, Hill Women's Federation, and Parbatya Chattogram Pahari Chhatra Parishad.

On April 26 last year, employees of Lama Rubber Industries Limited allegedly torched crops on over 300 acres belonging to the indigenous community of the three villages.

The incident drew huge criticism. Eminent citizens and rights bodies of the country expressed concerns over the incident and demanded punishment of the perpetrators. The villagers also alleged that miscreants poisoned a Jhiri (small water flow in hills) at Rengyan Mro Para on September 6, according to media reports.