Kuki-Chin National Front’s pursuit of a separate Eastern State

Kuki-Chin National Front, KNF

The hills are in turmoil as an armed group known as the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) stirs unrest, leaving many bewildered. According to government sources, there are external connections to these activities, with the KNF allegedly involved in a long-standing plan to establish a separate eastern state in the region. These efforts have been ongoing for an extended period. The government has linked these activities to recent incidents of bank robbery and the kidnapping of a bank manager in Ruma and Thanchi upazilas of Bandarban.

In response to inquiries about the geopolitical implications of KNF activities, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan emphasized their significance. He stated that the ongoing endeavor to establish an Eastern State alongside Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram has reverberated for a considerable duration. Notably, the hilly regions of Bangladesh are predominantly inhabited by a few hundred families of the Bom population, all of whom are Christians. The KNF, affiliated with this demographic, constitutes the sole external linkage. Minister Khan dismissed further external connections, emphasizing the discontent among the populations of Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur regarding KNF actions.

When queried about the possibility of regional cooperation to counter the activities of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan refuted such a notion. He cited the positive role played by neighboring countries, particularly India, in quelling these activities. Minister Khan asserted that the police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) would lead operations against the KNF, with the army ready to intervene if deemed necessary, a decision that rests with the army chief.

Following numerous terrorist attacks in Thanchi and Ruma of Bandarban, joint forces have initiated a combing operation to quell separatist elements. Chief of Army Staff General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed conveyed this information to the media at the Bandarban Army Region field on Sunday afternoon. He confirmed that the operation was underway, with multiple forces collaboratively conducting the endeavor. Earlier, the army chief conducted an aerial visit to Ruma and Thanchi upazilas of Bandarban.

Former Ambassador M. Humayun Kabir emphasized that the primary concern in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is internal affairs. He noted a rise in murders and internal unrest, creating a conducive environment for external interference. Mr. Kabir highlighted the expression of dissatisfaction through armed means by locals. In response to emerging situations, he stressed the importance of implementing security measures and addressing the depth of the crisis. Considering geopolitical risks, Mr. Kabir advocated for pursuing an inclusive solution.

In two upazilas of Bandarban, three branches of two banks were targeted, looted, and staff members were abducted within a span of 17 hours on Tuesday night. Subsequently, armed groups attacked the Thanchi police station on Thursday night, showcasing the KNF’s strength.

The Mountain Peace Agreement, signed on December 2, 1997, aimed to foster peace in the mountainous regions, putting an end to decades of unrest. Chief of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma Oroye Santu Larma, inked the Hill Peace Agreement, leading to the evacuation of numerous army camps from the hilly areas. However, nearly two and a half decades later, concerns arise as attacks by a relatively new KNF group threaten to reignite unrest. Nathan Bom, the KNF Group’s leader, is a former student of the Fine Arts Institute of Dhaka University. He established the KNF with the objective of securing a separate state for smaller groups beyond the Chakma, Marma, and Tripura communities. Notably, the armed members of this group have undergone training in various locations outside Bangladesh, including Mizoram.

With the target of countering China’s growing influence in the region, the US and its Indian Ocean allies have intensified their efforts. The Chittagong Hill Tracts have become a focal point in this geopolitical equation. The US implemented the Burma Act specifically to support anti-junta factions in Myanmar. There’s considerable speculation regarding any potential connection between the events in Chittagong Hill Tracts and this geopolitical rivalry. Bangladesh’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) contrasts with US desires to incorporate Bangladesh into the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). As a result, Bangladesh finds itself pressured amidst the struggle for dominance among major global powers.


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