DEEPAK ACHARJEE back from Khagrachari:
A number of sophisticated weapons, such as AK-22 automatic rifles, G-3 rifles, MK-11 rifles, AK-47, AK-56, and M-16 rifles, are entering the country from Myanmar and India, through the porous borders along the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). This was revealed by sources in the law enforcement agencies, as well as local leaders.
It is alleged that sections of the three local parties of Chittagong Hill Tracts—United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF), Parbottya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), and Parbottya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (Reformist)—are involved in arms smuggling. According to the sources, these smuggled weapons are primarily being sold to militant groups operating in the country.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies said that, on one hand, these CHT parties are organising surrenders of some of the smuggled weapons to prove their supremacy in their respective areas, to realise their goal of turning CHT into an ‘independent state’. On the other hand, they are also collecting large amounts of funds by selling these arms to militant groups.
According to the sources, a section of members of the local parties in CHT are collecting sophisticated arms from different insurgency groups of Myanmar, such as Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (ARSO), National United Party of Arakan (NUA), Democratic Party of Arakan (DPA), Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), Arakan Army (AA), Peoples Party of Arakan (PPA), and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), as well as separatist groups in India such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa).
Some areas, including Choto Horina and Boro Horina, under Borokol upazila in Rangamati, Sajek, Andarmanik, Fokirachori, and Bilaichori under Baghaichori upazila, Naraichori, Panchori, Dudukchori, Kedarachori of Dighinala upazila, Baganbazar, Borobil, Achalong and Ramgor Bazar under Ramgarh upazila, Thanchi and Naikhongchori areas in Bandarbans are the smuggling routes for arms and ammunition, the sources claimed.
Kongjari Chowdhury, the chairman of Khagrachari Hill District Council, explained how these sophisticated arms are being smuggled into the country. Talking to The Independent at his office in Khagrachari, Chowdhury said the smugglers were buying these arms from insurgent groups in neighbouring countries, and bringing them in through the porous border along the Hill Tracts.
He said that the spate in weapons smuggling poses a grave threat to national security. “Despite so many agencies like border guards, law enforcement and intelligence agencies keeping a watch over this area, how come weapons are still getting smuggled?” he wondered.
Md Majid Ali, superintendent of police of Khagrachari district, claimed that a number of foreign-made sophisticated and modern arms have been recovered from local terrorists. “We are investigating how these arms entered into the country,” he said. But, the senior police officer informed that they were yet to get any proof of
But, the senior police officer informed that they were yet to get any proof of connection between local terror groups and militant outfits in the country. Spokesman of JSS Mangal Kumar Chakma said that there are three different groups- one is standing for the peace agreement, and two others against it.
“We are not involved in arms smuggle or collection of tolls and kidnapping. Members of the other local parties may be involved in the criminal acts and wrongdoings,” he alleged. The JSS leader claimed they are getting support from the people for conducting their party activities. “But the local administration says we are collecting illegal toll,” he added.
Mangal Chakma informed that the ruling Awami League is losing confidence of the local people for not implement the peace accord fully though they are in power.
When contacted, State Minister of Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing MP told this correspondent that some members of the local parties are involved in different criminal activities like collection of tolls illegally from farmers, businessmen even the employees of different private and government offices.
“They are also involved in smugglings of arms and kidnapping people,” he said.
“We have already asked the law enforcement agencies to start a special operation in the hills to arrest the criminals involved in the criminal acts and recover the smuggled arms soon,” he added.
Law enforcement agencies said that weapons like the US-made M-16, Germany-made HK-33, and a number of Indian heavy arms were being smuggled, which even the Bangladesh Army is yet to use.
Sources said, when interrogating some members of Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) in connection of Gulshan attack, it was revealed that the three AK-22 rifles used in the attack were bought from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
JMB members Rasel and Nayeem, arrested recently from Chittagong, told cops that they bought MK-11 rifles from Chittagong Hill Tracts.
According to the sources, aided by terror groups operating in the hill districts, members of militant groups were taking training in deep forests covering the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The militants also procure foreign-made grenades and other ammunition from the terror groups in the hills. There are at least 113 kilometres out of a total of 198 Km porous border with Myanmar and 150 KM border out of a total of 281 Km porous border with India.