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Demand for Constitutional Recognition of the Regional 45 Indigenous Communities
By Ataur Rahman
Bangladesh Correspondent
Indigenous people in Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh — The Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum has called for "constitutional recognition" of the region's 45 indigenous communities, restoration of lands, and withdrawal of "army rule" from the area for full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.

"We must be united to establish our rights, implement the peace accord and secure our lands," Santu Larma told a meeting in the capital to mark International Day of the World's Indigenous People on Saturday (August 8, 2009).

"Indigenous people are still the victims of oppression. The government has not fulfilled its promises according to the plan they had made," Jotirindra Bodhiprio Larma, popularly known as Santu Larma, and president of the Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum said. "It won't work if we depend only on the government. We have to revive our movement," The UN's International Day of the World's Indigenous People falls as Bangladesh's attempts to resolve its own

Indigenous people's issues have come to the fore in recent days.

The government on 7 August beginning what it has termed "the biggest army pullout" from the restive CHT region since a peace accord was signed in 1997. There are currently five brigades deployed in the three CHT districts of Rangamatai, Khagrachharhi and Bandarban. A complete brigade is being withdrawn.

The previous 1996-2001 Awami League administration signed a peace deal with Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samiti (PCJSS) to end two decades of insurgency and establish permanent peace in the region.

As part of the accord, the government pledged to pull out army troops in phases and resolve land disputes in the three hill districts. Since the CHT peace treaty was signed to end decades of insurgency, 200 security camps have been phased out, according to the army. The withdrawal of the rest of the troops will depend on law and order there, the government has said in recent days. The army was deployed in the troubled region after indigenous communities took up arms in the 1970s in protest against the government of a newly independent Bangladesh for its "inaction" over key demands. These included decommissioning the Kaptai hydroelectric project and restoration of traditional land rights.

The Kaptai Lake, built in the 1960s, inundated the palace of the Chakma King and vast tracts of land displacing thousands of people.

A campaign of insurgency began against the Bangladesh Army, forcing many more to flee the area across the border to India.

Larma, who is also the CHT Regional Council chairman, says the army still rules supreme in the Chittagong Hill Tracts three decades on, even as the government has announced the withdrawal of a whole brigade. He asked the government to immediately declare a roadmap for the full implementation of the CHT Peace Accord.

He said the land that housed army camps must be handed over to original land owners, but the indigenous communities had not been properly informed of the matter.

Larma also dismissed main opposition BNP's allegation that withdrawal of army camps will give rise to renewed instability in the hills region.

The Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum has also recently presented 13-point charter of long-time demands to the government, including constitutional recognition of 45 indigenous communities, their entity, language and culture, formation of a land commission for indigenous community in the plain land, allowing their right to education in their language and culture and appointment of indigenous teachers in schools.

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Mr. Ataur Rahman serves as Bangladesh Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He earned his Master of Commerce degree from Dhaka University in 1985. Mr. Rahman has vast journalistic experience including his stints at "The Daily Janata" and "The Dainik Bangla."






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