The Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), has said that 17 militants of the Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya and 3 members of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) were arrested in a 12-hour operation conducted in the remote Remakri Bridge area of Remakri Prangsa Union in Ruma of Bandarban on February 8. RAB’s Director of Law and Media Wing, Commander Khandaker Al Moin, announced that a significant amount of weapons, bomb-making equipment, ammunition, and cash were seized during the operation.
However, the RAB’s statements have been challenged as not true by a local news bulletin, the Hill Voice, covering the CHT region, stating the arrest of militants and KNF members was completely false and staged.
Bangladeshi security forces have launched a crackdown on a nascent armed tribal group that, officials allege, helped train a budding Muslim extremist group in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a restive southeastern region near the borders with Myanmar and India. The joint campaign by the RAB, an elite police unit, and the army has led to the arrests.
The KNF, which has also been called the Kuki-Chin National Front (KCNF) or the Bawm Party, has recently been in the headlines as they demand an autonomous region for the Kuki people, many of whom follow Christianity, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They have been accused of working closely with groups like Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), and other Islamist groups seen as working for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials have reportedly uncovered a strong link between the KNF and a newly formed Muslim extremist group, Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya (JAFHS), be it joint training with the KNF or with ARSA and other groups.
An investigation led by the Hill Voice, has found that there were no gunfights with Islamist militants or the KNF.
According to the news outlet, the RAB’s claim of arresting three KNF members, namely Lal Malsiam Bawm, Flag Cross Bawm, and Malsom Pankhuya from the site was false. Reports suggest that Malsom Pankhuya was actually arrested in Kaptai on February 5 with Tk 7 lakh, while Lal Malsiam Bawm and Flag Cross Bawm were arrested in Ruma two to three months prior. Although Lal Malsiam Bawm and Flag Cross Bawm were allegedly involved with KNF, it has not been confirmed whether Malsom Pankhuya was directly involved with the group.
The report stated, “Local sources have confirmed that the reported arrest of 17 Islamic militant members from the scene is not true. It is learned that 17 militants were brought from other places and shown arrested on the spot.”
Local sources have also claimed that RAB members staged a fake gunfight in the early morning of Tuesday, February 7, firing blanks several times to make it appear as if there was a terrorist incident.