The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord completes its 24 years of signing today but the desired peace has not yet been established in the area owing to internal conflicts among local armed groups.
According to government officials, among the 72 articles of the peace treaty, 48 have already been implemented fully and 15 partially while nine are in the process of implementation.
The authorities say there has been a significant change in the quality of life in the hills, with various state facilities, massive infrastructure development, and increasing education rates.
But there are four armed groups active in the area in the fashion of Shanti Bahini. Around 5% of the hilly people are involved in the groups – Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS), JSS (Reform), United People's Democratic Front (UPDF) and UPDF (Democratic), they added.
Local administration officials say the groups continue committing crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion. In the latest incident, a JSS member was shot dead by an opponent group in Rangamati on Tuesday.
The officials further said the groups commit such crimes to establish their supremacy in the area.
"All efforts have been made by the government to implement the peace accord, but due to such armed groups, the accord could not be implemented fully," Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati Mizanur Rahman told The Business Standard.
"The armed groups create obstacles in different ways such as extortion from government's development projects."
According to law enforcement agencies, since the signing of the treaty, the armed groups have attacked and killed 16 members of the security forces, 480 ethnic minority people and 190 Bangalees.
During the period, 660 people of small ethnic groups and 650 Bangalees were injured and 910 ethnic minority people and 384 Bangalees were abducted.
Besides, the security forces have recovered more than 3,000 firearms and about 2.5 lakh ammunition in drives from 2005 to 2021.
According to data available with the Chattogram Hill Tracts ministry, out of 33 separate transferable offices in the three hill districts, so far 30 offices have been transferred to the Rangamati Hill District Council, 30 to the Khagrachhari Hill District Council and 28 to the Bandarban Hill District Council.
According to government officials, 71 of the 72 articles of the treaty were to be implemented by the government and the rest by the local groups, with surrendering their firearms to the authorities.
In February 1998, around 2,600 members of the groups surrendered and submitted their firearms to the authorities.
But locals allege that the groups have reorganised and collected firearms.
According to the Chattogram Hill Tracts Development Board, Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban are three hill districts comprising one-tenth of the important land area of the country. The total area of the three districts is 5,500 square miles but the population is only 16 lakh. In other words, the area is 10% of the total area of the country but the population is only 1% of the total population of the country. Of these, 8 lakh are Bangalees and the remaining 8 lakh belong to 13 ethnic minority groups.
Nikhil Kumar Chakma, chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, told TBS that the hill infrastructure has undergone tremendous development since the peace treaty was signed. Pucca roads have been built in all the upazilas of the hills up to the unions.
Before the peace agreement, the road was 2,803 kilometres but it is 7,949 kilometres at present. The number of hospitals and clinics has increased from 24 to 270 and the number of factories has increased from 135 to 223 now. Roads, numerous bridges and culverts have been constructed during the last 24 years, he added.
To improve the quality of education, the government has set up a university and a medical college and has increased the number of high schools and colleges from 11 to around 500.
There is a primary school in every neighbourhood. The literacy rate has increased from 2% to around 50% at present and the literacy rate of the Chakma community is 75%.
After the independence of Bangladesh, blood was shed in the three highly potential hilly districts because of the armed struggle by the Shanti Bahini.
The then Awami League government signed a peace treaty with the JSS on 2 December 1997 to end bloodshed in the hills.
The treaty was signed by the then parliament chief whip Abul Hasnat Abdullah on behalf of the government and JSS President Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) on behalf of the organisation in the presence of the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and members of the cabinet.
On 6 September 1998, the government had appointed Santu Larma as its chairman and formed a 22-member Chattogram Hill Tracts Regional Council. The activities of the council started on 12 May 1999.