Bangladesh Reports Growing Insurgency on Myanmar Border

By Muktadir Rashid   19 May 2023

DHAKA — Fighting between the Bangladesh army and Kuki National Army (KNA) has intensified in the last month, leaving at least three military personnel and numerous others dead.

The KNA, a Kuki insurgent group active in northeast India and west Myanmar, is the armed wing of the Kuki National Organisation.

Bandarban district has a long, porous border with both Myanmar and India.

Branded insurgents by Bangladesh, the group is trying to carve out autonomy for the hill community.

Travel bans were imposed in Bandarban in October 2022 and an “anti-terrorism” operation was launched in Bandarban and Barathali.

On Tuesday, at least two Bangladeshi soldiers were killed and two officers injured in an ambush and explosion in Rangamati with the authorities blaming the KNA.

On March 12, Warrant Officer Nazim Uddin was shot dead and two other soldiers were injured in a KNA ambush in Bandarban.

The military said the KNA is creating an “anarchic environment” in Bandarban’s forests.

The Prothom Alo newspaper reported that a civilian, Jewel Tripura, was killed and Abraham Tripura, 35, sustained injuries in Ruma in an explosion on Wednesday. The police said both the Tripura men were assisting the authorities as porters.

On April 7, the police recovered eight uniformed bodies in Bandarban’s hills after reports of gunfire.

The police said they were KNA members.

Three members of the Christian Bawm community, including Nem Thang, 35, a ruling Awami League ward leader, were found dead in Bandarban on May 8.

KNA spokesman Captain Fleming told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the group took responsibility for killing soldiers and said they had no alternative when the army displaces, arrests and kills those seeking rights and protesting against decades-long discrimination.

He said only two KNA soldiers were killed and the other victims were civilians.

Fleming added: “We did not want an armed struggle. We approached the authorities to address our problems. We submitted our proposals. None paid heed to us so we took up arms and demanded our autonomy.

“We never wanted separation rather our land rights and an end to discrimination,” he said. “We are marginalized and facing discrimination in every area, especially in getting jobs.”

Fleming said the KNA was ready to talk to the government but not the military.

“We also want the conflict to stop,” he added.

Mehadi Hassan Palash, chairman of CHT Research Foundation and the editor of parbattanews, said the Kuki tribe was always known as a marginalized and peace-loving community in the hills.

He said investment under successive governments in the hills following the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in 1997 was not distributed equally and the marginalized tribes were ignored.

He said Kuki demands could be solved democratically and politically.

The Bangladeshi authorities were unavailable for comment.

Kazi Mujibur Rahman, president of the pro-government Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens’ Council, said tourism, transport and trade had been badly affected since the imposition of travel restrictions.