Rangamati, Dec 16 : At least 57 houses, a Buddhist temple and some shops of ethnic community were torched in Naniarchar Upazila of Rangamati district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on Tuesday morning.
According to officials, Bangalee settlers carried out the attack on the excuse of allegations of damaging pineapple seedlings against the ethnic community people.
Mostafa Kamal, Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati, said some 4 lakh pineapple seedlings of the settlers were damaged by unidentified people.
"Seven shops, 10-12 houses and some jum houses of the ethnic people were set on fire," the official said adding that a number of 43 people were affected in the attack. The district administration provided Tk100,000 each as assistance to the affected families, he said.
However, the ethnic people claimed that the attackers torched over 57 houses in three villages - Suridapara, Camppara and Amtola. Besides, a Buddhist temple named 'Koruna Bihar' and some 50 other houses were vandalised and looted by the Bangalees, they added.
The three villages are situated within a span of one kilometre along the Rangamati-Khagrachhari Road where Bangalee settlers developed pineapple fields. Unidentified people last night damaged those plants but the Bangalees put the blame on the ethnic people.
Victim ethnic people said around 8:30 on Tuesday morning about 500 people from nearby Bogachhari village riding vehicles locally known as Chandergari and on foot entered the villages and carried out the arson attack and ransacked the houses.
During the around hour-long attack, the ethnic people fled away and took shelter in jungles and they came back to their villages after the attackers left and the police and administration officials came, they said.
Victim shopkeeper Lakkhirita Chakma, head of Suridapara village Ram Karbari and villagers Sanjib Chakma and Hekumar Chakma, said they did not know anything about the damage of the pineapple seedlings adding that they could save nothing as the attacks were carried out all of a sudden.
Visiting the villages at around 12:30pm, this correspondent saw different jum houses burning. Chandala Debi Chakma, who was crying standing beside a burning jum house, said, "At least 125 mounds of rice were gutted by the fire. We are yet to start eating meals from the new harvest of rice. How will we survive now? Why have we been attacked?"
Union Parishad Chairman Promod Bikash Khisha said a rumour that ethnic people had damaged pineapple seedlings planted by a Bangali led to the incident. A group of Bangali settlers first set fire to seven shops owned by Chakmas in 14 Mile area. Later, they ran amok at Suridas Parha, Nabin Talukder Parha and Bogachharhi Parha, torching and looting houses.
Local police and administration officials and people's representatives including the DC, Superintendent of Police, Naniarchar Upazila Parishad chairman Shaktiman Chakma, Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Nuruzzaman and Commander of Naniarchar zone of the Army Lt Col Md Sohel visited the spot.
At a brief meeting, they called upon the ethnic people to maintain peace in the area and assured them of arresting the attackers. Every victim was provided with Tk 1 lakh from the district administration. Besides, the deputy commissioner assured that they would be provided with corrugated iron sheets for building houses and other relief materials including blankets.
A 12-member committee has been formed to investigate the incident.
Immediately after the incident, United People's Democratic Front (UPDF) blocked the Rangamati-Khagrachhari Road, suspending vehicular movement. Later, police and army were deployed in the area.
In separate statements, UPDF and Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Committee strongly condemned the attack and demanded arrest and punishment of the culprits.