Hill Voice, 17 April 2024, Special Correspondent: More 23 innocent villagers have been arrested and 12 harassed after detaining temporarily in the last seven days in the name of so-called joint forces operation against bank robberies and weapons looting by army-created KNF terrorist groups in Ruma and Thanchi under Bandarban district.

With this, the total number of victims with innocent indigenous men and women has risen to 77. Reportedly, none of the previously arrested 54 Bawm community men and women, most of them innocent, have been released yet.

From the beginning, in the name of joint forces operation against the KNF terrorists, there have been allegations of indiscriminate arrest and harassment of common and innocent women and men of the Bawm community. At the beginning, only Bawm community people were arrested but afterwards, most of those arrested are known to be innocent Tripura community.

A human rights activist from Bandarban, who did not wish to be named, said that so far, the joint forces have failed to arrest any active and armed members of the KNF and recover the looted weapons after the robbery incident. But to divert the situation of the CHT including Bandarban, to create an atmosphere of fear among the people and to obstruct the CHT Accord implementation process, the joint forces led by the Army and DGFI are conducting operations in the name of suppression of KNF and indiscriminately detaining and arresting the innocent people.

On April 16, the CHT Commission, in a press statement, strongly condemned the arbitrary arrest and punishment of the entire Bawm community due to the misdeeds of some KNF members and demanded immediate release and protection of innocent citizens.

It is to be noted that on 16th April 2024, during joint operation, it was reported that 8 innocent Tripura villagers were arrested from Bartholi Union of Bilaichari Upazila under Rangamati District bordering Bandarban District. It is known that in the morning, the villagers went to the neighbouring forest to look for their cattle. The joint forces got the news, and picked them up and arrested. The victims from Shepru Para village in Barthali Union were Birbadu Tripura (30), Gunijan Tripura (50), Birnojoy Tripura (20), Shimon Tripura (25), Karbari of Dhup Panichara Jati Roy Tripura (41), Patrick Tripura from Hatichara Para (26), Jacob Tripura (32) and Krishna Chandra Tripura.

A local elderly person, who did not wish to be named said that the villagers have no connection with the KNF. Yet, the joint forces label these villagers as KNF.

On the same day (April 16), the army arrested a woman named Alia Bawm (26), daughter of Vanmunsian Bawm, Village- Getsimani Para, from a place called Kalaghata Baruatek in Bandarban Sadar Upazila. She is the Superintendent of Christian Missionary Hostel.

Before that, on April 14, 2024, the joint forces arrested 6 Tripura people from Bethani Tripura Para of Ruma Upazila labelling them having involvement with KNF. They were Karbari Ratichandra Tripura (58), son of Gangamani Tripura; Karbari's son Sukantha Tripura (21), a student studying in Notre Dame College; Rakha Chandra Tripura (21); Abraham Tripura (30); Pintu Tripura (30), son of Shaitoha Tripura and 1 person whose name could not be known. After the arrest, the joint force personnel interrogated the victims for a long time asking "Where is the KNF camp and for how long have the KNF members been stationed in Bethani Para?" etc. and released them at night.

It is reported that soon after the security forces started the anti-KNF operation, the common Bawm people of the Bawm dominated villages like Lairunpi Para, Munlai Para etc. were forced to leave their villages and took shelter elsewhere. As a result, KNF terrorists have been stationed at the Bethani Para near Munlai Para for quite some time.

On the same day (April 14), the police arrested 4 more Bawm community people suspected accused in the case filed in the recent Ruma and Thanchi bank robbery and weapons looting cases from Bandarban Sadar. The arrestees were- Lal Robat Bawm (27), son of Lal Min Saom Bawm, Village-Remakri Prangsa; Lal Lom Khar Bawm (31), son of Lian Juam Bawm, Village-Kuhalang; Mithusel Bawm (25), son of Rual Lai Bawm, Village-Paindu Union and Lal Ruat Lian Bawm (38), son of Ramkup Bawm, Village-Bandarban Sadar.

On April 13, at 9:30 p.m. the army detained 6 Bawm students studying in different educational institutions in Dhaka from a Dhaka bound Shyamoli bus from Reicha army check post in Bandarban. They were Dhaka International University student Sangsingmoy Bawm (21), son of Lal Tin Khum Bawm, Village-Laimi Para; a female student of Dhaka Prime College of Nursing Ram Jhow Kim Bawm (22), daughter of Lal Tin Khum Bawm, village-Laimi Para, Gazipur Panjura Girls High School student Sari Lalram Bawm (15), daughter of lal Kim Bawm, Village-Laimi Para; European University of Bangladesh student Lal Lian Nuam Bawm (25), son of Haolian Bawm, Village-Laimi Para; Dhaka Notre Dame College Student Roujalian Bawm (17), son of Bhanrau, Village-Laimi Para; Dhaka St. Gregory High school and college student Thomas Lalram Tang Bawm (17), son of Lal Rin Sang Bawm, Village- Balaghata. Later, around 9:40 PM, the head of ASU Bandarban unit, Lt. Col. Md Fahad Faisal, came to the Reicha check post and interrogated the victims extensively. After interrogation, the students were handed over to Bandarban Sadar Police Station. The next day (April 14), the arrestees were released except Lal Lian Nuam Bawm, a student of the European University of Bangladesh. Then on April 15, when Lal Lian Nuam Bawm's father and Karbari Haolian Bawm of Laimi Para went to the Bandarban police station, the police arrested Karbari and released his son.

Before that, on April 12, joint forces arrested 2 people named Towar Lian Bawm and David Bawm on suspicion of KNF from Zaion Para of Ruma Upazila, and on the same day 2 others named Lamthar Bawm, Village-Chinlung Para and Robert Bawm, Village-Hebron Para on suspicion of KNF reportedly detained from Balaghata of Bandarban Sadar.

On April 11, the Joint Force arrested 3 persons namely Lalrin Toang Bawm (20), son of Lalcheo, Vanniam Thang Bawm (37), son of Ngundang Bawm and Bhanlal Thang Bawm (45), son of Lalmuan Bawm from Eden Para of Ruma Upazila. Besides, on the same day, a group of joint forces reportedly fired 3 grenades and 20-25 rounds of blank shots at the Nazirat village. It is learnt that they went there to detain the Karbari of Nazirat Para. But, on hearing the joint forces arrival, all the residents of the Para left it and took shelter elsewhere.

On April 10th, from 10:30 pm, a group of joint forces surrounded Lairunpi Para and Eden Para, and took all the Bawm villagers to the Marma Welfare Association office in Ruma. It is known that the adults and the youths of that village have gone into hiding a few days ago because of fear, now only women and children stay in these Bawm paras.

On the other hand, on the same day (April 10), local sources alleged that joint forces burnt some Bawm people's shops at the entrance of Artha Para and Bastlang Para.

On April 9, joint forces arrested a man identified as Pastor Lian Siam Bawm (55), son of Thon Alha Bawm, on suspicion of KNF from Bethel Para in Ruma. Later, on April 10, the joint forces handed over the man to the Bandarban police station. On the same day, joint forces arrested another person named Bhanlalboy Bawm (33), son of Jingtoar Bawm, Village-Shahjahan Para from Thanchi. It is reported that a case has been filed against him as an accomplice in the Thanchi bank robbery incident.

It is to be noted that on April 2, at around 9 pm, a group of 13 KNF armed terrorists led by Jawrin Lusai (42) robbed around Tk 1.6 million from Sonali Bank's Ruma Upazila branch, and looted 14 weapons and 415 rounds of ammunition from security personnel. The bank manager was also kidnapped. However, the next day various media claimed by the administration that the money was not lost. The next day, on April 3 around 12 noon, another armed group of KNF terrorists attacked two banks, Sonali Bank and Krishi Bank, in Thanchi Upazila of Bandarban district and looted Tk 19 lakhs. Many believe that there is a conspiracy by the Army and the DGFI in such a successful robbery of the banks located between the police and BGB camps by the KNF in public.

After the bank robbery incident, the joint forces announced a massive military operation against the KNF in the Bandarban area from April 7. Between April 7 and April 9, the joint forces were reported to have arrested a total of 49 people from Ruma and 5 people from Thanchi.

Most of those arrested are known to be ordinary and innocent. Among them, 18 were women, 2 were pregnant women, 8 were college-university students and others were public and private school teachers, public and private employees, farmers, labourers and people of various professions. Each of them has a specific profession. Some of the students are studying in Dhaka, who came home on vacation just a few days ago. The arrestees have not yet been released.

Noteworthy, the Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO) was formed in 2008 under the leadership of Nathan Bawm and Vanchunliam Bawm with the help of the Army and DGFI. Later in 2019, armed activities were launched against the implementation process of the CHT Accord and Accord signatory Jana Samhati Samiti fuelled by the Army and DGFI. The KNDO was renamed Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), known as the Bawm Party.

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