Commentary: Issue 04: Wednesday: 29 August 2012
THE 23-August attack on members of the United Peoples’ Democratic Front (UPDF) in Balaghata of Bandarban town was preplanned, according to local people including businessmen.
Many believe Santu Larma, chairman of the CHT Regional Council, who was in Bandarban on the day of incident to pay tribute to the late Mong chief Aung Shey Prue Chowdhury, had personally ordered the attack. The attack was launched a few hours after had left Bandarban for Rangamati.
Local businesspeople in Balaghata said since last month before that attack a leader of an armed group loyal to Santu Larma had been asking them not to help UPDF when they made an attack on UPDF in Balaghata.
What happened on that day?
When Santu Larma came to Bandarban to pay his last respect to the late Mong chief, about 100 JSS activists and supporters gathered in the town. They held a meeting with Santu Larma in which he is believed to have given the final nod to attack. He left Bandarban at around 3pm and the attack began at 5pm.
According to eyewitnesses’ accounts, about 30 – 35 people came to Balaghata bazaar from the direction of central Bandarban in vehicles and took position at two points: one near UPDF office and the other at Tin Rastar Mor (juncture of three roads). They were armed with sticks, slings, machetes and brickbats.
Immediately after jumping down from the vehicles, they began to look for and attack UPDF activists. They made best use of their slingshots and brickbats and took UPDF men completely off-guard. To save themselves, the UPDF activists had to run away from place to place and many took shelter inside shops. The police did nothing to prevent the attackers.
Bikram Tanchangya, a UPDF activist, said: ‘I quickly slunk into a shop near the police. The Santu group men came to catch me and began shouting at the Bengali owner of the shop to push me out.’
UPDF’s chief organizer in Bandarban, Choton Kanti Tanchangy, who was wounded in the attack, said: ‘I came to know of the incident about 45 minutes after it began. When I learnt, I ran to the place of occurrence and found that the JSS people were running riot. They were shouting slogans like ‘We *** UPDF’, ‘We want Choton’s dead body’, ‘Attack Choton’s house’ etc. Fear and tensions were running high and many women were crying.’
Choton said the JSS men had thrown brickbats at him and he was wounded in the attack. The marauders also tried to break open the UPDF office, but failed, he added.
‘I found myself alone but I did not run away in face of the attack. Even many shop owners shut their businesses and ran away. I was trying to dodge the brickbats that the attackers were hurling at me, but they came down like rains and a brickbat or something like that thrown by a sling hit on the neck. Some brickbats also hit my legs and hands.’ Choton continued.
At one stage, when Choton was only a few seconds away from being caught, people gave shouts in unison and came out in their hundreds to save him. The situation changed immediately and dramatically, and the JSS men ran away towards Kulukhyongchara, after being chased away by the mob.
One of the attackers was caught and given a thrashing by the posse. He would have been killed if Bikram Tanchangya of UPDF had not saved him from the crowed. Later on he was handed over to the police.
A Bengali businessman said, ‘If we had not come out shouting, the JSS men would have killed Choton.’
The army and police arrested 27 activists and supporters of the Santu group as well as three members of the UPDF. However, all of the UPDF members and most of the Santu men had been released by next day.
A UPDF leader condemned the arrest of their activists, who suffered the trauma, as a ‘double attack and unfair.’
An informer of the Santu group, Buddha Sen Tanchangya, was also arrested but UPDF leader Choton Kanti Tanchangy got him released the next day.
How Karbari of Kulukhyong Para village wounded
The Karbari of Kulukhyong Para, Chikanya Chakma, was wounded when he was hit by a brickbat thrown by the attackers. He went there to try to dissuade the Santu group from attacking UPDF, but he did not get time to do the job. Events happened very swiftly and he found himself standing a few yards behind Choton Tanchangya.
When the JSS men threw brickbats using slingshots, he was hit on the head. He was admitted to Bandarban Sadar hospital. Thus Santu group’s claim that he was wounded by UPDF has no basis. The Santu group even tried to get him to file a criminal case against UPDF members but he refused to do so.
Friend turns foe
One of those who had taken part in the attack was Choton Tanchangya’s friend. His name is Daya Ranjan Chakma. They went to school and college together. He was also arrested in connection with the attack.
Choton said: ‘When I went to the police station the next morning, I found him in the police lock-up. I asked him how they gained from the attack. He remained silent for a moment, hanging his head down and then said ‘we have been victim to circumstances.’
What JSS says
On the 23 August attack, a leader of the Santu group, who wished not to be named, said: ‘On the day of the incident, some of our members and supporters went to Balaghata bazaar to buy a football. But the UPDF activists held them. To secure their release another group of our activists rushed there.’
When asked why they did not report the incident to the police, he kept mum.
UPDF also refuted the allegation, saying ‘it is completely baseless and untrue.’ Businesspeople in Balaghata bazaar agreed that no such incident had happened on that day, while police said no such incident had been reported to them.
Attempt at ousting UPDF
While attacks on UPDF in Balaghata by Santu group are not new, the latest one represents the most organized attempt. A primary school teacher in Balaghala said that the 23 August attack was undoubtedly an attempt to oust UPDF and establish JSS supremacy in Balaghata.
According to UPDF, Santu group has carried out a number of terrorist attacks to capture Balaghata. For example, on 18 February 2010, an attempt was made on the life of Choton Kanti Tanchangya, who contested in the 2008 parliamentary elections from Bandarban constituency. He escaped unhurt as the attacker’s gun failed to fire.
On 10 May this year, Santu group activists went to Balaghata in the name of sticking posters and attacked UPDF office and tried to kidnap a UPDF activist. When the local people resisted, they had to retreat.
On 15 June 2012, Santu group beat three members of the Hill Students’ Council, a front organization of the UPDF.
JSS should take lesion
The Santu group does not seem to have learnt any lesion from the incident. After the incident, they threatened the businessmen of Balaghata for siding with UPDF during the attack. But they believe they did the right thing. ‘The incident should serve the Santu group right.’ they said.
A Jumma businessman asked, ‘How can we sit idle, when such an injustice is meted out? They will come and attack innocent people and if resisted, they will become angry with us – that is too much.’ He believes that the Santu group should practice democratic principles as UPDF and other parties do in Bandarban. [End]