A former guerrilla commander now a leader of Bangladesh' indigenous people has charged the Bangladesh authority with "betrayal" of their political autonomy of the ethnic minorities living in the hill forests in the country's southeast region.
Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma, chairman of a political party that represents the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), told journalists on Wednesday that the government has been engaged in dilly-dallying tactics since a peace accord was signed 14 years ago.
Larma threatened the government with non-violent action in the new year to press home his party's 19-point charter of demands, which include regional autonomy, withdrawal of military troops and the designation of a special status for the indigenous people.
In a statement, the rebel leader urged the government to abrogate the "state religion Islam" from the recently amended constitution.
Larma protested the government's refusal to recognize the non-Muslim ethnic communities as indigenous people, acknowledged by the International Labor Organizations Convention 169, a legally binding international instrument. Thus, he said the authority also denies the political, economical, social, cultural and human rights of the ethnic group, which constitutes less than 1 percent of the population.
He criticized the continued presence of a huge contingent of military in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after surrender of the insurgents and their weapons 14 years ago. The military was blamed for political instability and occasional racial skirmishes by Bangla-speaking Muslims settled from the land-hungry plains.
Responding to a reporter, Larma said the government is not pro-people and pro-secular, therefore the indigenous groups have lost hope for peace in the volatile hill forest.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, based in Copenhagen, told a press conference in the capital Dhaka that they abandoned an international mission due to intimidation by security agencies.
Co-chairs Sultana Kamal and Elsa Stamtopoulou, jointly briefing the media after a week of their mission to CHT, said that a culture of impunity prevails in the region and that the authorities are nonchalant about holding an independent inquiry into several racial riots since 2008.
Mission leader Stamtopoulou said in the face of unprecedented obstruction and interference from administration officials and intelligence agencies during the commission's talks with victims of human rights and civil society groups in Rangamati and Bandarban administrative towns, the commission was compelled to discontinue its planned mission last Friday.
The commission squarely blamed the military and law enforcing agencies for continued human rights violation in the hill forest region, which is one-tenth of Bangladesh where ethnic Mongolians have lived in seclusion for centuries.
This has encouraged racial hatred among the hill people and Muslim settlers, which has fueled distrust among the ethnic communities for non-implementation of the peace accord signed by insurgents and the government more than a decade ago.
However, Stamtopoulou said she has hope for confidence-building measures among the settlers from the plains and indigenous people that need to be initiated by the government and civil society actors.
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