Eight people were killed during a “shootout” between two armed groups at Rowangchhari upazila in Bandarban on Thursday night, said police, reported Dhaka Tribune. Officials suspect the United People’s Democratic Front (Democratic) and Kuki-Chin National Army, the military wing of Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), were engaged in the gunbattle.
Abdul Mannan, officer-in-charge (OC) of Rowangchhari police station, said the bullet-riddled bodies were taken to the Bandarban Zila Sadar Hospital morgue. The bodies will be handed over to their families after the autopsy, reported Dhaka Tribune.
Based on an inspection of their clothes, the deceased are believed to be members of the Kuki Chin National Army (KNA), the armed wing of the KNF. It is suspected that the opposition armed group took heavy weapons that the deceased were carrying.
The KNF in a social media post claimed that just seven people were killed in the gunfight. They blamed a reformist group for the incident, without mentioning any name, reported Dhaka Tribune.
While the KNF is the armed wing of the Kuki Chin National Front, that harbours separatist demands, the original UPDF under Prasit Khisa has in the past stated ‘full autonomy’ for the CHT districts as its principal demand. Its official position on the CHT Accord signed between the government of Bangladesh and the PCJSS in 1997, has been ‘skeptical’.
UPDF (Democratic) has never clarified its position or distanced itself from the original founding principles. Their reasons for splintering are thought to be personality-based.
The deaths reported on Thursday are the highest in an armed incident in the area since the July 2020 incident, reported Dhaka Tribune.
On March 12 this year, a senior army warrant officer was killed and two other soldiers suffered injuries when members of KNA opened fire on a patrol team in Rowangchhari upazila of Bandarban.
On March 15, KNF members abducted nine people, including Sergeant (Retd) Anwar Hossain, while they were working on the road in the Longthasi Jhiri area of Ruma.
In a message on March 18, the KNF claimed that 30 people from the Bom community were detained by the joint forces from September 9 till March, and demanded their release, reported Dhaka Tribune.
After Thursday’s incident, some 175 families in the neighbourhood have taken refuge in Rowangchhari Government High School. Manik Khiang, a shopkeeper in the Khamtam neighbourhood, said: “There was a shooting incident between two groups on Thursday evening. At that time, many people left their homes in fear. So far, I have learned that more than 50 families have left their homes. Many of them have taken refuge in nearby educational institutions.”
Since November 15 last year, at least 548 people from 132 families have taken refuge in Mizoram. On January 28, some 140 Marma women, men and children took refuge in Ruma Sadar from Mulpi Para, but they returned to their homes on February 5, reported Dhaka Tribune. On March 10, around 220 people of 56 families from Barathli 4 Union of Rangamati’s Bilaichhari took shelter in Tangchangya Reichha and Rowangchhari Sadar Upazila in fear of the armed activities by KNF members.