60 injured as hill people, settlers clash, army called in, ban slapped on gatheringsAbdullah Juberee and Selina Sumi
The administration in Rangamati town called in troops and imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, banning any kind of gathering for an indefinite period after a violent clash spread across the hill-town between hill people and Bengali settlers that left at least 60 persons injured, dozens of vehicles and households damaged and torched on Saturday.
The violence was caused by a trifling altercation between Bengali and hill students at Rangamati Government College and soon turned into a violent clash as outsiders from both the sides joined the melee.
The clash immediately spread across the town and almost became a sectarian riot after rumours were floated that people had been killed. Both the Bengalis and hill people attacked each other in all the major neighbourhoods in the small town, prompting the administration to call in troops to restore order.
The major business establishments, offices, and even private hospitals and chambers of physicians on both sides of the main road of the town were damaged. Violence was most intense in business hub Banarupa, College Gate, Kalindipur and Majherpara of Tabalchhari.
The authorities closed down the Rangamati Government College for an indefinite period following the violence in which some teachers were injured and the principal’s office totally damaged.
Several hundred Bengali settlers attempted to attack Banarupa marketplace and an adjacent village and some leaders of the Awami League and BNP tried to stop them. As they were paying no heed, the patrolling troops threatened to shoot anyone moving.
Among the injured around 40 people were taken to the Rangamati Combined Military Hospital and others to the Rangamati General Hospital. Ten critically injured persons were shifted to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital including physician Sushobhan Dewan.
Bengalis also attacked the upazila complex where the local government representatives of the hill districts were holding a conference. At least ten chairmen of union councils were injured in the attack and one of them, Arun Chakma, chairman of Mogban Union, went missing.
The chairmen were Paritosh Chakma of Babuchhara, Mongol Chakma of Longudu, Shombhu Tanchangya of Roangchhari, Sanu Pru Marma of Sualok, Thoairing Marma of Chitmorom, Chaila Pru Marma of Koalang, Uchi Pru Marma of Hafchhari, Chandra Ranjan Chakma of Dighinala, Bishwa Kalyan Chakma of Kobakhali, and Chuinu Pru Marma of Sindukchhari.
The administration announced enforcement of Section 144 throughout the town through megaphones at around 1:00pm as violence was continuing to intensify.
Teams of military, Border Guard Bangladesh and police personnel were patrolling the city and not allowing more than two persons to gather. All vehicular movement stopped on the local and inter-district roads.
Panic gripped the entire town and students trapped in schools went home by special arrangements.
Rangamati’s police superintendent, Masud ul Hassan, said the situation calmed down somewhat after Section 144 was imposed. He said the clash ensued from a trifling dispute in the college and later spread throughout the town.
The principal of Rangamati Government College, Banchita Chakma, said he could not understand exactly what caused the sectarian violence among his students that spread outside the college. He said a huge number of outsiders joined the clash from both sides and did not pay any heed to their request to calm down. ‘They even attacked my students and colleagues who were in classrooms,’ he said, adding at least a dozen students and two teachers, Samir Kanti Nath and Dhiman Barua, sustained severe injuries.
Executive magistrate Saiful Islam said Section 144 would be in force till normalcy returns.
Meanwhile, the Pahari Chhatra Parishad brought out a procession at Dhaka University in the afternoon in protest against the ‘planned attack’ on hill people in Rangamati. The protesters held a rally before Aparajeya Bangla.
The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti condemned the attack on hill people and demanded exemplary punishment of the people responsible for it. ‘It was nothing but part of the conspiracy of vested interest groups who are eager to see the Chittagong Hill Tracts become violent,’ said the party’s information secretary, Mangal Kumar Chakma.
The United People’s Democratic Front said the attack was a planned one and the silence of the police proves this. ‘The police remained curious onlookers and did not try to contain the clashers. Such extensive damage could have been prevented if proper steps had been taken by the administration,’ said Sachib Chakma, member of the party’s central committee.
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