Bangladesh

CHT Border Road: 1,036km to pave way for surveillance

A border road along the three hilly districts of Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban is being built to enable surveillance and prevent cross-border criminal activities.

The government is constructing the 1,036km road, which will take approximately 10 years.

The construction of the road to make patrolling the remote areas easier started on January 1, 2018.

"The first phase of the border road has already started and once it is completed, it will open new opportunities," AKM Mamunur Rashid, deputy commissioner of Rangamati, told The Daily Star.

It will increase vigilance in border areas which are currently hard to reach and also provide access to people living in remote areas, he added.

According to the authorities concerned, the initiative comes as a response to insurgent activities and smuggling along a 20-kilometre stretch of unguarded hilly border with Myanmar in the southeast, which has become a safe haven for insurgents and weapons smugglers.

The adjacent region to this vulnerable stretch of border falls mostly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts district of Bandarban, where thick vegetation and dense forests make it virtually impossible for law enforcers and border guards to navigate and is therefore completely unguarded.The border will run along the three hill districts of Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati to strengthen border surveillance and check the activities of insurgent groups.

Local law enforcers said these groups smuggle in arms from insurgents active in India's eastern states, also known as the Seven Sisters, and Myanmar through the largely unguarded hilly borders with India's Mizoram and Myanmar's Chin states.

Of late, an armed group called the Marma Liberation Party has been active in these border areas, they said.

"The Marma Liberation Party has been active in Bandarban border for the last three years. Sometimes it is tough to reach remote areas," Superintendent of Rangamati Police Alamgir Kabir told The Daily Star.

According to officials of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, several hundred armed youths are operating in the rugged hills for four factions of two well-known organisations -- Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS Santu Larma faction), PCJSS (MN Larma faction), United People's Democratic Front (UPDF) and UPDF (democratic).

Mathew (not his real name) is a case in point. He joined the PCJSS in 2013 but now realises that he is on the wrong path and wants to return to normal life.

He shared his story of joining the force.

Mathew went to attend a PCJSS discussion with his friend and joined, being motivated by the speeches of the leaders.

He was moved to a border area for training and can now operate heavy guns.

He received a monthly salary of just Tk 500 and was tasked for collecting extortion money.

"If there was any big operation, only then was I assigned to go," he said in an anxious tone.

No one, however, could estimate the number of illegal firearms the groups have in their arsenal.

"Once the border road is constructed, the trespasses will stop and the illegal arms trading too," SP Kabir said. 

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