We feel heartened to know that negotiations have begun with the Kuki Chin National Front or KNF, an armed organisation engaged in a conflict against the Bangladesh Army deep in the mountainous district of Bandarban, Bangladesh. The army has been conducting operations in the area for the past several months to stop the armed activities of the KNF and several army personnel have been killed. It is said that the KNF has 'conditionally' agreed to come and hold a meeting on the territory of Bangladesh.
In a virtual meeting this week with members of a peacebuilding committee formed by the local civil society and district council, KNF informed them about these conditions. Through this, for the first time, KNF came to discuss their demands. In this meeting, 12 members of 'Peace Establishment Committee' were joined by four members from the KNF, including a 'Brigadier General' in the organisational structure of the KNF. The security forces of Bangladesh consider the Kuki Chin National Front as a 'separatist organisation'.
Army Chief General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed visited Bandarban in the first week of June. He then told reporters that they want a peaceful solution to everything. Since then, many have speculated that talks with the KNF might begin. However, the army was keen to also point out that they will not hesitate to play a strict role in the country's needs. Immediately after the meeting this week, the members of the peacebuilding committee informed the security authorities of the Bandarban region about the statement and demands of the KNF. In an interview with the BBC, a member of the committee said he believes that the security authorities have responded positively to some of the KNF's conditions.
In May, the KNF made several demands to the government. These demands included formation of an 'autonomous' region with nine upazilas of Chittagong Hill Tracts including Ruma, Thanchi, Rowanchari; a separate administrative region led by the Kuki Chin in the area; and to arrange for the repatriation of the Kuki Chin population who had migrated to India and Myanmar in the face of the military operation in their area. While an autonomous region sounds unfeasible, greater attention to the Kuki Chin's wellbeing as part of an overall push to better address the needs of the entire population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts should not be lost on the government. Many experts on the region remain adamant that it is the failure to fully implement the CHT Accords even 25 years now after their signing, that is the real source of these tensions. The demand to take steps to bring back those who fled to India's Mizoram state, should brook no opposition.
Sources of the peacebuilding committee told the BBC that the talks with the KNF are supported by the top echelons of the government, including the security authorities. It is mainly for that reason that this committee was formed last month at the initiative of the district council to start the discussions. Let us hope they bear fruit in the coming weeks.
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