BangladeshEconomic DiplomacyHighlights newsTop Stories

That is why KNF wants ‘KTC’ in the hills of Bangladesh

April 23, 2024 10:47 am

Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), a relatively new armed organization in the hills, is now in the news after attacking banks in Ruma and Thanchi in Bandarban. Why did the organization become so reckless? What is behind this attack? What does KNF want?

Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of the Jana Sanhati Samiti (JSS), started an armed struggle for regional autonomy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the 1970s. Many incidents of violence took place in this fight which lasted for two decades. But at this time, there is no precedent for Shanti Bahini bank robbery in the afternoon anywhere in the three hill districts. Therefore, the incident of robbery of KNF in three branches of two banks in Bandarban for two days and the fact that the miscreants left without a hitch is surprising.

Even if it is not a bank robbery, there are precedents of bank robbers coming from other places and taking shelter in the mountains. It happened around 1971. The activities of various armed groups began in the 50s of the last century in some states of the northeastern region of India near the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The members of these groups were supported by the then Pakistani ruling class. One of the groups is the Mizo National Front (MNF) of Mizoram. Its chief Laldenga and his aides looted banks in Mizoram’s capital, Aizawl, in 1971.

Laldenga’s family lived near the residence of the current Rangamati District Superintendent of Police (Dak Bungalow of the then Roads and Public Roads Department) during almost the entire period of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Laldengar’s forces assisted the Pakistani forces. Not only that, there was an armed stand against the freedom fighters. Gautam Dewan, one of the organizers of the liberation war in Rangamati and the first elected chairman of the district council, can still remember those words.

Not only Gautam Dewan, but many locals remember the activities of Laldengar’s forces. However, when Bangladesh became independent on December 16, 1971, Laldenga quickly left Rangamati with his army to Myanmar. Incidentally, the Mizo leader Laldenga and the current KNF members are of the same ethnic group. The topic of Laldenga came up in the context of the KNF bank robbery. But now time and perspective have changed. The Pakistani state power was in collaboration with the Laldengas. But now the government is vigilant and strict against this mischief of KNF. The army chief and the police chief have stated their stance against the KNF. The Home Minister not only issued a warning but also opened the way for peace talks.

The issue of these peace talks is quite muddled. A ‘Peace Establishment Committee’ was formed on 30 May 2023 amid joint forces’ operations against the KNF. Its head is Bandarban Hill District Parishad Chairman K. Shai Hla. In July and August of that year, the KNF had several virtual meetings with the committee. Later, there were two direct meetings of the Peace Establishment Committee with the KNF last November and March 5 this year. Representatives of administration and law enforcement were also present in that meeting.

Now the question is, the committee formed to negotiate with a group of armed groups who declared war against the state was formed with the consent of which agency or office of the state?

The head of the committee, Zila Parishad Chairman K. Shai Hla said, no department has told. Thinking about the peace of the area, thinking about the people, we made this committee ourselves. Zilla Parishad is part of the government. So it can be said that there is consent of the government. And the police and administration people also stayed in our discussion.

Regarding the peace committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Minister of State Kujendra Lal Tripura said, I do not know anything about this committee. We have not been told about any such committee from our ministry.

When there was armed activity of the Peace Force in the hills, from that Ershad government onwards, discussions with the JSS were going on from the highest level through the formation of committees. After the formation of the BNP government in 1991 under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, the initiative of peace talks was taken by forming the National Committee under the leadership of then Communications Minister Oli Ahmed. Members of Parliament including Rashed Khan Menon were members of that committee. Later, even after forming the Awami League government, the high-level committee discussed. And on December 2, 1997, in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the then Chief Whip of the Jatiya Sangsad Abul Hasanat Abdullah and Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Santu Larma signed the historic Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement on behalf of the Bangladesh government. Abul Hasanat Abdullah is the head of the committee that is now implementing the mountain agreement.

How reasonable is a Zilla Parishad’s peace initiative with an armed group that raises questions of state integrity? In response to this question, Rashed Khan Menon said, “KNF and peace talks with us – everything seems mysterious to me.” There is no transparency.

If not at such a high level of the government, the issue of peace talks with the KNF should at least be informed to the regional council formed according to the mountain agreement. Because according to the agreement, the regional council will coordinate the activities of the three hill district councils. But regional council sources said that they were never informed about these discussions.

The reason for this ‘devotion’ of the Bandarban District Council to the Regional Council is not clear. However, the KNF has openly expressed its hatred and hatred towards the regional council.

KNF modified 6 points, what’s in it?

If any group demands a new state, they have any deprivation, but to whom will they do this? To state or government representatives. But in the case of KNF, a different thing was seen. That is, from the beginning of 2022, they announced a separate state with 9 upazilas of hills on Facebook. Their Facebook page directs all their anger on regional councils, JSS and Chakmas and not on any department or institution of the government. Apart from these three, they had no place to hate. They started giving various messages to take ‘revenge’ against the Chakmas by attacking different neighborhoods. In the meantime, they killed two jum farmers and injured some others including children in a Tripura village of Farua Union of Bilaichhari Upazila of Rangamati.

In October 2022, RAB launched a special operation against the KNF after it was accused of cooperating with militant groups. Meanwhile, the initiative of peace talks started from May last year. After leaving the demand of ‘state’, KNF made a new demand with 6 points to give autonomous regions including Baghaichhari, Jurachhari, Barkal, Bilaichhari, Rowangchhari, Ruma and Thanchi with formulation of separate administrative system. They also named this region, ‘Kuki-Chin Territorial Council’ or KTC. KNF presented 6 new points to the peace committee.

According to KNF, all office functions of KTC shall not be under the purview of Hill District Councils or Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council.

It does not end here. KNF wants KTC chairman to be full ministerial status.

The KNF claims that the people of the Kuki-Chin i.e. Bam, Pankhwaa, Lusai, Khumi, Mro and Khiang communities are the natives of Chittagong Hill Tracts. But this land is subject to deprivation by the government and the larger population.

Although 5 other ethnic groups were involved with them, the representatives of these ethnic groups held a press conference and said that they have no support with the demands of KNF.

Jarlam Bam, the president of the Bam Social Council, the largest organization of the Bam community, and the member secretary of the peace committee formed to negotiate with the KNF, said that neither this organization nor any of its members have anything to do with the KNF. Peace loving Bomera are living in peace with other ethnic groups. They have no separate claim.

KNF also wants to change the traditional land management of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The entire Chittagong Hill Tracts have long been divided into Chakma, Bomang and Mang circles. The three circle chiefs or kings collect revenue on behalf of the government. Unlike the 61 districts of Bangladesh, the land management here is legally recognized. But the KNF wants, circle chiefs or headmen of Mauza will have no power on land.

Land is one of the problems of hills. The major reason for this problem in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is the immigration of at least 400,000 plain Bengalis during the military government in the 1980s. Many Bengali settlements were built in the age-old abode of the hill people. In this, the hill land problem becomes more complicated. Even after two years of formation of land commission, even one’s land problem has not been resolved. People of any ethnic group in the hills have to face this complexity of the land. But KNF says any Pahari and Bengali can settle in their imagined KTC. Even small ethnic groups and Bengalis in any region of the country can come and buy land!

KNF’s proposal to take into account the interests of the land dispute?

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University’s Department of International Relations said that KNF actually wanted to attract attention. That’s why they acted like a bank robbery in broad daylight. Again, buying and selling hill land has provided an opportunity for everyone including Bengalis. Even if these proposals of KNF are not realistic, they will attract the attention of many. That may be what they want.

Related Articles

Back to top button