Development eludes Bangladeshi Buddhist tribals

IANS, Dec 2, 2007

Dhaka, Bangladesh -- Major problems confronting Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, home to the country's Buddhist tribals, remain unresolved ten years after a peace treaty led to their surrender.

Ethnic minority leaders in general have blamed it on lack of political will by successive governments, who have shied away from granting autonomy to councils, envisaged and formed under the treaty.

Their major demands as laid out in the CHT peace treaty of 1997, which ended guerrilla warfare of 22 years, have not been met, New Age newspaper said Sunday.

Occasional violence between rival factions of the minority organisations has also continued.

The expected results of the treaty such as tranquillity and development remained elusive, the newspaper noted in a report marking ten years of the treaty signed on Dec 2, 1997.

The issue of settlement of land disputes in the hilly region, a major component of the agreement, has gone unattended as the land commission assigned with the job could not even start functioning despite extension to its tenure for two times.

There is now no commission as such after its expiry on Oct 31, 2007 and a proposal for the reconstitution of the commission has been pending with the law ministry, the officials concerned said.

Bangladesh's hilly and most picturesque and mineral-rich region became part of the then East Pakistan, even though it had a Buddhist majority.

Historical records say that Sir Radcliff, who determined India's partition on Hindu-Muslim lines in 1947 decided that CHT should go to Pakistan as River Karnaphuli, that flows through it, is the source of water for Chittagong port. The Congress-led government in India did not press its claim.

A high official of the CHT affairs ministry claimed the government had handed over to the regional council 19 out of the 33 divisions to make the council autonomous. The minority leaders, however, termed these 'minor issues'.

'The implementation of the peace treaty has come to a standstill for lack of will of political governments,' said Moni Swapan Dewan, a former deputy minister in the government of Khaleda Zia (2001-2006).

Dewan wanted the current interim government to show 'more enthusiasm and sincerity' in implementing the treaty.