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HC orders two day halt to CHT army pull

The High Court on Sunday directed the government to temporarily suspend withdrawal of troops from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, until Aug 19, on two separate petitions filed last week.

The directive came just hours after the International Commission on the Chittagong Hill Tracts lauded the government’s recent move to withdraw a complete brigade, out of five stationed in the region, the single largest pullout of troops since the CHT peace accord was signed in 1997.

In a related development on Sunday, two rubber garden employees were abducted from Naikkhangchhari Upazila in Bandarban hill district in the early hours, while the withdrawal of army camps by the government has been protested by the region’s Bengali settlers in recent days who fear reprisals by the indigenous community against them or a general breakdown in law and order.

The High Court’s order came on two petitions filed last Sunday (Aug 9) seeking an injunction on the ongoing pullout of troops, also arguing that the removal of army camps in the region threatens the security of Bangali settlers.

Barrister Abdur Razzak, also a leader of opposition party Jamaat-e-islami, moved the petitions for Tajul Islam and Badiuzzaman with the bench of justices Syed Refaat Ahmed and Moinul Islam.

The petitions, supplementary applications, sought a continuance of a previous pending petition filed by Badiuzzaman in 2000, in which the court had issued a rule asking the government to explain why the CHT Peace Accord should not be declared illegal.

The current army withdrawal would make the still pending petition from 2000 ineffective, Islam and Badiuzzaman said.

The court issued the interim stay order on the governemnt’s withdrawal of troops until a hearing on the pending petition challenging the validity of the peace accord resumes on August 19.

IC lauds troops pull

The International Commission on the Chittagong Hill Tracts, earlier Sunday, lauded the government’s move, and also expressed hope that the troops recall would not aggravate the law and order situation in the region.

“This is good decision of the government to withdraw army,” Lord Eric Avebury, one of the three vice chairs of the commission, told journalists at the foreign ministry on Sunday after calling on foreign minister Dipu Moni.

The Commission was formed in Copenhagen in the 1990s to create pressure on the then Bangladesh government to stop alleged human rights violation in the hill region.

Avebury and members of his entourage this week visited the three hill tract districts—Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban—troubled by violence and counter-violence between the tribal people and the Bengali settlers since the 1970s.

He said, “We hope that there would be no deterioration of law and order in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after troops withdrawal.”

His comment followed the abduction of two rubber garden employees in Bandarban district earlier Sunday.

Twenty eight year-old Hefazetur Rahman and 24 year-old Nazer Miah, employees of a rubber cultivation project of the TCP Group, were taken from their office at around 2am, Naikkhangchhari police chief Obaidul Haque told bdnews24.com.

Deputy commissioner Mizanur Rahman confirmed the news. “The police, administration and Bangladesh Rifles have already held a meeting on the matter,” he said.

The latest incident brings the total to five people abducted in Bandarban since the government began the pullout on Aug 9.

The previous three abductees, kidnapped in two separate incidents, were released in exchange for ransom, locals said.

Chittagong Hill Tract Regional Council chairman Santu Larma has said opponents of the CHT peace accord might be responsible for the latest spate of kidnappings in the area in an attempt to destabilise the peace process in the hill districts.

Opposition to pullout

The main opposition BNP and its allies, meanwhile, have said army pullout would threaten “the country’s integrity”.

The Awami League signed the peace deal in 1997 with the Parbattaya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity headed by Santu Larma who at one time led a guerrilla war against the army.

The peace deal was opposed at the time by another faction of Chakma guerrillas, the UPDF, which continued with violence despite the peace deal.

Meanwhile, Bengali settlers in the region are also protesting the withdrawal of army camps for fear of violence or reprisals against them by indigenous communities.

A half-day hartal was observed in Langadu Upazila in Rangamati hill district on Sunday, protesting army pullout from the Chittagong Hill Tracts by Parbottya Shamo Odhikar Andolan (PSOA) and Parbottya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad (PBCP), forcing all business centres including shops and educational institutions to remain closed.

Md Alamgir Kabir, PBCP central committee president said his organisation, after a meeting at Bahaddarhat in Chittagong on Friday, was also declaring a 12-hour roadblock on August 20 to be imposed in the three hill districts of Rangamati, Khagrhachharhi and Bandarban.

‘Govt moving in line with accord’

Dipu Moni said after her meeting with Avebury on Sunday that the International Commission expressed satisfaction over the government’s policy on the Hill Tracts.

“He hoped that the peace agreement, signed by the Awami League government in its previous term, would be fully implemented during the tenure of this government.”

The minister said the government was dismantling army camps as per the peace treaty.

“Would any government take any action that would cost country’s sovereignty?” Dipu Moni questioned, replying to the opposition’s criticisms aired in recent days.

Source: BDNEWS

Added on - August 16, 2009 | Filed under Latest