Farhad Chowdhury: Bagalek, the highest altitude freshwater lake in the country. This wonderful tourist center is located in Ruma Upazila of Bandarban. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to see Bagalek, a reservoir of exquisite natural beauty located at a height of 380 meters above sea level. Most tourists come here during winter and monsoon season.
Bagalek, where more than 200 tourists used to travel every day, is now devoid of tourists. The scenic and popular tourist center is now under threat from the hill terrorist group Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF).
The ban on tourist travel was officially lifted on July 12, but the panic has not yet subsided. As a result, on the one hand, the local tourism businessmen are affected, as well as the entire tourism industry of Bandarban is under threat.
On August 2, it can be seen that there is no tourist in the area and it is very quiet. Not a single tourist was seen in the spot throughout the day. Various tourist-oriented shops in Bagalek Para (Bom Para) next to the lake are also devoid of customers. Everything seems to have stopped here due to fear of terrorists.
Talking to the local residents of Bom Para next to Bagalek, located at the lap of the remote hills, it is known that tourism is one of the means of their livelihood. When tourists come to visit the lakeside, most of the residents make a living by selling and buying in their shops. Many residents of this neighborhood rent one or two rooms of their houses to tourists. Some run the family with the money earned from the cottage rent. But the residents of Bam Para are now living a dehumanized life as tourists do not come due to fear of KNF terrorists.
Pai Pai Bom is one of the locals who are suffering due to financial crisis. His house is in Bagalek neighborhood. He told Daily Industry, “I grow jum and also rent two rooms to tourists who visit here. We sell various fruits including pineapples and bananas grown in Jum to tourists. My family runs with the income. Now tourists are not coming for last one year due to fear of KNF terrorists. It has made our life difficult. The situation is such that some days we are even starving.
On the one hand tourism has come to a standstill across Bandarban due to KNF terrorists, so many hillbillies like Pai Pai Bom are suffering. Apart from Bagalek, he was seen visiting several tourist spots and talking to local residents.
I cultivate jum, besides renting out two rooms to tourists who visit here. We sell various fruits including pineapples and bananas grown in Jum to tourists. My family runs with the income. Now tourists are not coming for last one year due to fear of KNF terrorists. It has made our life difficult. The situation is such that Pai Pai Bom, a resident of our Bagalek neighborhood, spends some days in starvation.
According to local residents, the residents of Bandarban used to live the happiest lives among the three hill districts in the recent past. Their harmony and peaceful living was exemplary for the people of the other two hill districts. The economic activities of the residents of this district are agriculture and tourism-dependent. Besides, the tendency of tourists to come to Bandarban has always been more than the other two districts as it is ahead in terms of natural scenery. Winter or monsoon – there was always a crowd of tourists in all the tourist centers of the district including Nilgiris, Thanchi and Bagalek.
Due to terrorist organization KNF, the tourism sector of Bandarban has cast a dark shadow. Tourists do not want to come now due to fear and panic. From hotel and resort owners of the district to marginal people, everyone is affected.
Suddenly KNF Kal in the happy township
After the KNF terrorist attack on October 17 last year, the local administration banned the travel of tourists to the tourist centers of various upazilas. The ban was lifted on July 12 after almost 10 months. But the panic of KNF is not over yet.
According to the locals, KNF is still threatening them on social media. Saying that no one should go to any spot with tourists until their demands are accepted. They will not take responsibility for any damage if anyone goes to the tourist center before their demands are met.
On the condition of anonymity, a resident of Bandarban’s small minority Boma community said that if these threats are made, no tourists will come. Due to them, we have to spend days starving as tourists do not come. Besides, they are oppressing all Bengalis and Paharis. If they don’t pay the monthly fee, they are being kidnapped and killed.
According to the locals, KNF is still threatening them on social media. Saying that no one should go to any spot with tourists until their demands are accepted. They will not take responsibility for any damage if anyone goes to the tourist center before their demands are met
Rimon Tripura’s dirty face in Milon Chari
The ‘Milan Chari’ spot located in Bandarban Sadar Upazila is very popular with tourists. Standing at this spot, tourists enjoy the view of the sky-high mountains and the winding river. Every day thousands of tourists stop here to take pictures and enjoy the natural scenery.
Rimon Tripura set up a temporary shop next to this tourist center with various products including tea, biscuits, chips and mountain bananas. Tourists are the customers of his shop. Earlier, the family lived well with the income earned from selling to tourists. Rimon is in dire straits as there are no tourists for a year.
He said that one has to go to the tourist centers like Thanchi, Nilgiris and Bagalek after crossing Milan Chari check post. Tourists come down to this spot to see the mountain and take pictures. Before getting into the car, they bought various products from me, including mountain bananas. It sold an average of Tk 5 thousand per day. But KNF took everything away from me. Because of their terrorist activities, no one dares to go to Thanchi, Nilgiris or Bagale. As there are no tourists, there is no sale in my shop. For the past one year, the family has to run without eating a single meal.
Hotel business collapsed
Most of the tourists visiting Bandarban stay in various hotels and resorts in the city. From there they went to different spots by car. Returned to the hotel in the evening. Bandarban is now tourist free due to terrorist activities of Kuki-chi. Most of the hotels, resorts and cottages are now empty. Every hotel in Bandarban used to be full of tourists during the monsoon season, now most of the residential hotels are crowded. The owners of these hotels, resorts and cottages do not have money to pay the employees.
An average of five thousand taka was sold daily. But KNF took everything away from me. Because of their terrorist activities, no one dares to go to Thanchi, Nilgiris or Bagale. As there are no tourists, there is no sale in my shop. Rimon Tripura, a resident of Milon Chari, has been going without a meal for the past one year
Manager of River View Residential Hotel located in Bandarban. Imran told Dhaka Post that our hotel has 15 rooms. 13 of them are vacant. But not a single room should remain empty during the monsoon season. If this situation continues, we will have to close the business.
Chander’s car will be lost
Not only the hotel business collapsed due to cookie-chin terrorists, but also the popular moon car business of Bandarban. Many are selling Chander’s cars at a loss and winding up the business.
On condition of anonymity, an owner of Chander’s car told Daily Industry that tourists go by microbus or CNG to the spots around the city. Our core business is in Nilgiris, Thanchi and Bagalek areas. These remote areas cannot be reached without Chander’s car. But because of Kuki-chin, tourists can no longer visit these areas. Still if any tourists come there is a security risk to take them to those areas. There is no telling when the Kuki-chin terrorists will strike. As a result, business has been going down for a long time. If cookie-chin can’t be suppressed, we have to go out of business, there is no way.
Bustling Burmese market is now silent
Due to the terrorist activities of the hill terrorist organization Kuki-Chin, not only the people of the remote hilly areas, but also the residents of Bandarban city are suffering in many ways. Especially the businessmen of the city are suffering more.
There are several Burmese markets in the city of Bandarban. In which various products from the neighboring country Myanmar were sold, starting from the products made by the people of the small ethnic groups in the mountainous region. Tourists visiting Bandarban used to buy these products with great interest. At present, all the shops in the Burmese market are almost devoid of customers.
Go to Lala Burmese market and see that there are 10-12 shops there. But the market is completely devoid of buyers. Shopkeepers are waiting for customers. Not more than 1/2 tourists are seen in a whole day.
Burmese market traders said that the entire district has become devoid of tourists since Kuki-chin made Bandarban a mess. There are no buyers in the Burmese market. As a result, the profit is far away, many traders are not even able to pay the rent of the shop. Many are forced to close their businesses.
The owner of Lala Burmese Market Rajpari shopping mall. Sagar said, in other years, Tk 6-7 thousand worth of products were sold at this time. Now not even Tk 1000 is sold in a day. We are in deep trouble. Army is trying to normalize the situation. Hope peace will return to Bandarban with their efforts.
Kuki-chin is still active
Talking to the local residents of Bandarban and the members of the civic council, it is known that the activities of Kuki-chin terrorists have not stopped yet. They are working to conduct terrorist activities in Bandarban using various strategies. The terrorist group is also carrying out ambushes on army personnel engaged in security and humanitarian activities in the mountains. In this situation, panic still prevails in Bandarban.
Chittagong Hill Tracts Central Office Secretary Md. Shahjalal said, Bandarban has no source of income other than agriculture and tourism. Fruits produced in the agricultural sector including mangoes, bananas and pineapples are sold to tourists. But tourists are not coming due to fear of terrorists. If people do not come to sell these products to whom? People of Bandarban are really suffering due to lack of tourists.
At that time, products worth Tk 6-7 thousand were sold a day. Now not even Tk 1000 is sold in a day. We are in deep trouble. Army is trying to normalize the situation. I hope peace will return to Bandarban with their efforts, said the owner of Lala Burmese Market, Rajpari Shopping Mall.
Blood of army is falling
According to law enforcement sources, the KNF and militant organization Jamaatul Ansar Phil Hindal launched an operation in the hills from October last year. At least five army personnel have been killed in armed attacks and IEDs by KNF terrorists since the operation began. In addition, a total of 11 army personnel including three officers were injured in the sudden armed attack by Kuki terrorists.
Meanwhile, 17 KNF members were killed and two injured in attacks by other regional terrorist groups over mountain dominance and infighting. According to RAB sources, they have arrested 17 KNF members so far. RAB has continued strict intelligence surveillance against the organization.
KNF leaders live outside border
According to intelligence sources, KNF chief Nathan Bom and the top leaders of the organization are located on the border of Mizoram and Myanmar. However, they quickly changed their position by taking advantage of the remote mountainous area. It is also known that Nathan Bom spends most of his time in Mizoram.
KNF’s logo shows the date of establishment in 2008, but in 2018, the terrorist activities of the organization came to everyone’s attention. From the middle of last year, the terror activities of the organization started to increase.
Since then, the organization has been accused of murder, kidnapping, extortion and attacks on the security forces. The organization has created illegal and fabricated maps covering almost half the area of the hill region. Bangladesh, Myanmar and India border on three sides of their imaginary map.
The Kuki-Chin National Front or KNF is made up of members of six small ethnic groups in the Bandarban Hills: the Bom, Pankhua, Khumi, Mro and Khiang.
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