*A nineteen-year-old Nigerian citizen, Goddyu Ochendo,
has finally returned to his country after he was detained
in Dhaka Central Jail for about eight years.
had been detained in Dhaka Central Jail till February
5 last although he was sentenced to only two months
jail by a court in Dhaka due to legal complications
and lack of attention by the authorities.
Nigerian envoy in Dhaka was asked by the High Court
to send back Goddyu to Nigeria after immediate release
from the jail. He left Bangladesh for Nigeria on February
18. The High Court order came following a report in
The Daily Star.
was arrested with teenaged American girl, Elieda MacCord
in 1992 on charges of drug smuggling. In July 1993,
Goddyu was acquitted in the drug smuggling case, but
he was charged with using an "invalid" passport. After
three years of trial, the court sentenced him to two
was released much earlier when a noted American congressman,
Bill Richardson visit Bangladesh for freeing her.
woman who was involved in child trafficking was arrested
on February 22 at Savar area when she was loitering
to Savar Upazila police, Parveen Akhter (30) was held
with a minor boy, Manju, near the sub-registry office.
Manju, a son of Abdul Mazid, was brought from the
southwestern district of Jessore. (Source:
The daily Prothom Alo, February 24)
Akhter, a pregnant woman and wife of Mujibar Rahman
of Sonadanga village under Baghmara Upazila of Rajshahi
district, could save her life anyway.
she failed to give birth to a live child as the on-duty
doctors and nurses did not look after her properly
at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH).
to a newspaper report, Shahina was admitted to the
ward no. 22 of the RMCH on February 15 with serious
pain. Her relatives alleged that the doctors and nurses
did nothing at the critical stage of her health.
she was taken to a private clinic where a gynecologist
of the DMCH, Noreen Begum operated upon her and removed
Shahina's dead child.
the 16th of February 2001, four foreigners (2 British
and 2 Danish) working as consultants for the Roads
and Highways Department, and the driver of their car
were abducted at gunpoint at Betchari, 25 kilometers
from Rangamati. One of the British consultants was
released soon after, alongwith the driver, and sent
back with a note to Rangamati. The note contained
a demand: the foreigners would be released in exchange
of a ransom of 9 crore taka (1.8 million US dollars).
anthropologists who have been, for many years, vocal
against the military occupation of the Chittagong
Hill Tracts, and at the reconstituted nature of political
and economic subjection of the pahari people after
the signing of the Peace Treaty Accord between the
Government of Bangladesh and the Jana Sanghati Samiti
(JSS) in December 1997, we are deeply alarmed at the
incidence of abduction and at the events surrounding
it. We are as concerned about the personal safety
of the hostages - Torben Mikkelson and Nils Huggard
of Denmark, and Tim Selby of Britain - as we are about
the safety and security of pahari peoples, and at
the consequences that this incidence might have on
the Hill Tracts region in the near-future.
the Peace Treaty Accord has not brought peace to the
Chittagong Hill Tracts, has been, over the past months,
repeatedly pronounced by Santu Larma, who had himself
signed the Accord on behalf of the JSS, and has since
been threatening to return to previous guerilla tactics
of armed struggle if the conditions of the agreement
are not fulfilled by the government. In a situation
where Santu Larma and the JSS seem to be losing popular
support and credibility among the paharis, and the
United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), who had opposed
the Peace agreement on the grounds that hill people's
autonomy was not ensured (a position which has been
borne out by later events), seem to be gaining support,
things are, undoubtedly complex. That there is more
to it than meets the eye becomes clear when one scans
the first newspaper reports of abduction that came
out on the 18th of February.
national dailies reported the suspicion that the abductors
belong to the anti-Peace Accord Treaty group. Some
newspapers went a step further: the "UPDF" was mentioned
by name. Military intelligence has been cited by the
dailies as their news source. This automatically raises
the question: what kind of evidence has enabled military
officers to reach such a conclusion? The editors of
liberal newspapers, which more often act as mediums
of hegemonic Bengali ethnicity, apparently do not
feel obliged to question the veracity of such claims:
their Bengali ears are probably attuned to receiving
such "truths." Several days after the abduction, Kalparanjan
Chakma, the minister for CHT affairs was reported
in the newspapers as saying that they (surely meaning
the administration?) did not know who the abductors
were, and that the wild guesses which were being manufactured
were particularly unhelpful. The identity of the abductors
is still not known (although one newspaper report
states, that the army is "99% sure" of their identity.
No further elaboration has been made. It is not necessary
either. Bengali public discourses on the identity
of the abductors have been framed around whether they
are "pro-Treaty" or "anti-Treaty" and all fingers
point to the latter). That no political group of the
Hill Tracts has so far claimed responsibility for
the abduction does not seem to matter either. And
that, militant groups are more likely to give priority
to the release of their leaders (such as Shonjoy Chakma
in the case of UPDF, and scores of activists imprisoned
recently) as happened in the Kashmiri militants' hijacking
of an Indian Airlines plane last December - such reasoning
does not seem to carry any weight.
the meanwhile, on the night of the 22nd the police
conducted a raid on Dozarpara village,. Dozarpara
is adjacent to the Kalapahar forest, where the abductors
are believed to be hiding with their hostages. Newspaper
reports claim that it is a UPDF stronghold. During
the raid, the police picked up 70 people, detained
33, of whom 25 are "suspected" activists of the UPDF.
Pahari public representatives who had been doing pre-negotiation
groundwork for several days, told journalists that
they had not been informed that the raid would be
carried out. It seems that even the CHT minister himself
was not informed. On hearing of the raid, the pahari
mediators had gone to the village only to find it
deserted. The police had been brutal: they had beaten
up people, ransacked homes, and sexually assaulted
women. According to the pahari representatives, the
raid has imperiled their efforts to negotiate with
the abductors. Why was a loyal minister kept in the
dark? Worse still, one of the pahari mediators has
expressed the opinion that the raid was deliberately
carried out to prevent negotiations taking place.
And mind you, these mediators are pro-Peace Accord
Treaty paharis, public representatives who are loyal
to the Awami League government.
has seemed most strange to us in these last ten days
has been the trigger-happy manner in which the Bangladeshi
military forces have been operating which harken back
to the not-so-distant pre-Peace Treaty Accord past:
the national dailies have been full of news of the
setting-up of army road patrols, of army camps at
strategic points, the sealing of entry and exit points
within a 35-mile arc, the cordoning of roads, the
carrying-out of combing and searching operations by
the crack troops of the Bangladesh Army, and the splitting
of 600 counter-insurgency troops from the elite 24th
division of the army into 20 patrols which were joined
by the Bangladesh Defense Rifles and the armed police,
and provided with air-cover by Air Force helicopters.
But the crowning achievement of the army has undoubtedly
been the issuance of an "ultimatum" to the abductors:
the army threatened to "use force" and flush out the
abductors if the hostages were not safely turned-over
to the authorities. Surely, it is hijackers and abductors
who issue ultimatums (as everyone knows in this media-saturated
world) and not the national government or army, especially
not when those abducted are Westerners? More particularly
so, when "the government" we are talking about is
that of a poor, aid-dependent third world nation.
Why is the army confused over its "proper" role (that
is, issuing ultimatums which is a role befitting abductors
and hijackers)? The army has since, however, denied
that it had issued any ultimatum and has promised
to go low-profile, amidst gentle reprovals by officials
of Western donor nations that the use of force is
not appropriate, that European lives are at stake,
that force is not to be used until the abductors give
signs of being tired and exhausted, that may be then....
but still.. after all, European lives.... Bangladesh's
image ..... And in the meantime, two British experts
who are reported to possess expertise in such matters
(trained in criminal psychology perhaps? After all,
it was the British colonisers, who had officially
legislated that "the tribals" of colonial India are
"criminals") have arrived from England to aid Bangladeshi
official in conducting negotiations.
have said at the very beginning that we are worried.
We are concerned about the safety and security of
the expatriate consultants. We are worried that the
government will use the instance of abduction to rescind
its own Peace Accord (which is, at any rate, dubious)
and reoccupy the Hill Tracts militarily. Military
occupation will undoubtedly aid the Awami League government
in ensuring the "good governance" of the Hill Tracts
(crackdown on pahari struggles, policing, surveillance
etc.) and on the extraction of its natural resources.
Some Western governments have a keen interest in the
latter, being, of course, "partners" in our development
efforts. In this context, the possibilities of pahari
peoples asserting not only their rights - to life,
livelihood, and land - but in being able to withstand
continuing Bengali assaults (enabled by arms manufactured
by Western nations, by a national military and national
security force who receive training largely in British
and US academies) on their physical, material and
cultural existence seems more and more remote.
Chowdhury & Rahnuma Ahmed
Department of Anthropology