Dozens of families flee hills amid operation against separatists, Islamist militants

An official says the families first took shelter in the hilly jungles after the separatists opened fire on security forces

U She Thowai
Published : 29 Jan 2023, 07:53 PM
Updated : 29 Jan 2023, 07:53 PM

Dozens of tribal families have left their villages in the hills amid an operation by the security forces against the separatist group Kuki-Chin National Front or KNF and Islamist militants of Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya.

At least 51 Marma families and 20 from the Bawm ethnic minority group took shelter in Ruma town of Bandarban on Saturday and Sunday.

The families were living in the Marma Welfare Association’s hall room and the Bawm Community Centre . They are from Happy Hill, Bastlang, Mualopi, Sanakro and Kyoktaing villages.

Mamun Shibli, chief executive of Ruma Upazila administration, said the members of the ethnic minority groups first took shelter in the hilly jungles and waterfalls after the separatists opened fire on the security forces from their villages, where the insurgents took shelter due to the operation in the hills of Paindu union.

The families moved to the town after the situation improved. Uhla Mong Marma, chairman of Paindu union council, said some other families might still be in the jungles.

Police said they recovered the body of a suspected member of KNF, also known as the Bawm Party, from the hills after an army contingent retaliated. The army and the Rapid Action Battalion have been conducting the operation jointly for months after reports of activities of the separatist and Islamist groups emerged.

Mong Pru Ching Marma, who left his village with his family, told over the phone that they fled after shooting in the hills for several days. “We left our belongings and livestock. Some family members were stranded on the road or in the jungle as they became too tired to walk. They joined us later.”

Hla Thowai Ching Marma said KNF members took away and tortured a young man from their village some days ago. “And then the shooting occurred. We fled, fearing something worse would happen.”

He said 70 other families had left their village, but he did not know their destination.

Union council Chairman U Hla Mong said the villagers have long been complaining about the presence of KNF in their villages. They also alleged torture by the armed group.

“The shooting occurred at one stage of the operation launched [in Paindu] on Friday. Residents reported shooting also on Saturday.”

Sui Pru Ching Marma, general secretary of Marma Welfare Association, said they arranged beds and food for the families.