A septuagenarian woman was burnt to death as about 300 houses of ethnic minority people were set on fire allegedly by Bengali settlers at villages of Langadu upazila in Rangamati on Friday.
Panicked ethnic minority people of different villages at the upazila fled to the hilly jungles fearing further attacks by Bengalis.
The administration imposed ban on public gatherings, or processions.
‘We could not imagine that the situation would turn so devastating’, Rangamati deputy commissioner Manjarul Mannan told New Age.
‘Several thousand Bengalis took part in the attack’, he said, adding, ‘The unruly mob could not be controlled despite deployment of police and army.’
The attack came after the body of a local Juba League leader was recovered at Char Kilometre of Khagrachari Thursday afternoon.
Protesting at the death, Rangamati district Juba League, the ruling Awami League-backed youth organisation, staged demonstration at Langadu in Rangamati Friday morning, said Langadu union chairman Kalin Mitra Chakma.
District Juba League president Akbar Hossain Chowdhury, also the Rangamati municipal mayor, led the demonstration, witnesses said.
Before the demonstration, several hundred Bengalis from different areas gathered at Langadu at about 9:00am, they said.
They later brought out procession with the coffin of the deceased Juba League leader, Nurul Islam Nayan.
From the procession, they vandalised local office of Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti and shops owned by ethnic minority people at the Langadu bazaar, the witnesses said.
They later set fire to the house of Langadu union chairman Kalin Mitra Chakma, said the witnesses.
The unruly mob later set fire to the houses of national minorities at nearby villages of Tintala, Kattaltala, Battala, Battepara, Banobihar, they said.
‘They [Bengalis] went berserk, suddenly started attacking our houses, robbed them and set them on fire,’ said Setu Chakma, a villager of Tintila.
The attacks continued till 2:00pm, local people said.
Kalin alleged that the attackers burned at least 300 houses of the national minorities in front of police and army personnel.
In the face of the attacks, the national minority people fled to deep forests, he said.
He said that 70-year-old woman Dinamala Chakma was burnt to death as she could not flee from the house at Tintila when the attackers set it, along with other houses at the village, on fire.
Langadu upazila nirbahi officer Tajul Islam confirmed the death news.
Rangamati deputy commissioner Manjarul Mannan said in the evening that the situation in the area was still eerily calm.
He said that the ban public gathering imposed under the Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure would continue until the situation improved.
Asked about the allegation of setting fire to houses in presence of security personnel, Manjarul said, ‘We could not control the unruly mob despite deployment of police and army, but it was not true that the police and army were there to support the arsonists.’
After the death of the Juba League leader, local leaders of national minority contacted local Awami League leaders and police and expressed their fear of attack, said Kalin.
The deputy commissioner claimed that they were not informed about the fear.
‘We had a preparation to avoid any untoward situation over the death, but the hill people did not tell us anything,’ he said.
Manjarul said that the majority area of Langadu was populated by Bengalis.
‘We imposed the Section 144 at about 12:30pm when the violence was escalating and the situation went beyond our control,’ he said.
District Juba League president Akbar Hossain Chowdhury alleged that the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, a regional political party of the hill people, was behind the murder of Nurul.
Nurul, a cart bike driver, went missing Thursday morning when he took two ethnic minority people on his bike for Khagrachari, Akbar said.
Later Nurul’s body was found, he said.
Langudu police station officer-in-charge Mominul Islam said that the police filed a case with his police station in connection of Nurul’s death but none was arrested till Friday evening.
Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti denied the allegation of its involvement in the murder.
In a release on Friday, its publicity secretary Mangal Kumar Chakma said that the attack was carried out with patronisation of the ruling Awami League to evict the hill people and grab their lands.
He alleged it was a planned attack in coalition of army, police and ruling Awami League leaders to burn and rob the house of hill people.
Different organisations, including rights organisation Ain O Salis Kendra and United People’s Democratic Front condemned the attack and demanded arrest of the attackers and security of the national minorities in the area.
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