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A representative of the Bawm people, one of the eleven ‘Jumma’ tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, spoke to British MPs and peers at a House of Commons reception in London yesterday about the violent repression faced by his people.
The meeting was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples and Survival International. Oscar-winning actress and Survival ambassador Julie Christie also attended.
Bawm man Lal Amlai described how at the age of nine he had returned from school to find that his entire village had been evicted by the Bangladesh army and forced to live in an army ‘grouping centre’.
‘When I reached the village, there were no more houses. I saw some villagers collecting their belongings. I could not talk to them as I was so shocked and emotional that I could not even look at them. When we finished collecting our belongings I had to leave my dear village forever.’
‘The army used to torture the villagers. They forced us to work for them as a free labour.’
Hundreds of thousands of Bengali settlers have been moved into the Hill Tracts over the last sixty years, displacing the Jumma tribes. The government signed a peace accord with the Jummas in 1997, and made a commitment to remove military camps from the region and to end the theft of Jumma land by settlers and the army. But military camps remain in the Hill Tracts and violence and land grabbing continue. Abuses have escalated since the declaration of emergency rule in Bangladesh in January 2007.
Mr Amlai said, ‘The army has been bringing in more settlers, even though they were supposed to have stopped this years ago. This is making Jummas a minority in their own land and is leading to conflicts, resulting in the recent burning of seven Jumma villages and the beating of Jumma men, women and children by settlers in Sajek, while soldiers watched.’
Mr Amlai is the only Bawm to have visited the UK.
For further information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]