02/22/2010, 00.00

Clashes between tribals and Bangladeshi: eight dead, pagodas and churches burnt

William Gomes
Violence stoked by disputed land, which Muslims settlers want to rob from Christians and Buddhists. Local sources say the army fired on the crowd. At least 50 homes and the UN headquarters destroyed. Dhaka promises reconstruction of places of worship.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - A church, a pagoda and a UN office set on fire, at least eight people dead, hundreds injured and more than 50 houses burned. This is the toll from recent clashes among tribal minorities and Bangladeshi settlers in Baghaichhari upazila in south-east of the country, some 400 kilometers from the capital Dhaka. The military intervention helped to fuel the tension: Local sources reported that troops opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd.

Surendranath Chakrabarti, Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati district, confirmed to AsiaNews that "a church, a pagoda and a United Nations office were set on fire." A statue of Buddha in the Buddhist monastery located in Banani  was also targeted, while another statue, donated by Thailand to the monastery was plundered. He adds that some fifty houses were burnt in Baghaichhari.  

On 20 February the local administration called for army intervention to quell clashes between settlers and minorities, which broke out after disputes over land. The authorities imposed a kind of curfew, implementing Article 144 of the Penal Code which forbids public meetings with more than five people. However, the military and security forces started to burn houses, to encourage the settlement of the Bangladeshi settlers and remove the tribals, a predominantly Christian and Buddhist.

Leaders of the local minority groups speak of five deaths in the violence, but the victims could be eight. Witnesses present at the time of the clashes, add that the military fired "indiscriminately" on the crowds. The police have confirmed the death of a woman, Buddhapudi Chakma, 40,  who was "shot repeatedly with a pistol."  

In the 1980s the government in Dhaka ordered thousands of Bangladeshi citizens, most of them victims of floods, to be resettled in the hilly region of Chittagong. A decision which has sparked violent conflicts over land ownership, contested between ethnic and religious minorities and the majority Muslim.  

Today the government has ensured that it will rebuild places of worship destroyed in the clashes.    

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