DHAKA: A rebel group in Bangladesh has offered to hold peace talks, officials said Monday, raising hopes for an end to 25 years of violence that has killed hundreds of people. In 1997 the main rebel outfit in the restive Chittagong Hill Tracts region in southeast Bangladesh, the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS), signed a peace deal and laid down its arms.
But a splinter group of younger rebels in the mainly Buddhist region that is home to several ethnic tribal groups, the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF), rejected the agreement.
The deal failed to address key issues such as autonomy for the region and the presence of thousands of government troops and Bengali settlers, it said.
Since then a turf war between the JSS and UPDF has left hundreds of people dead including senior UPDF figures and a small number of Bangladeshi soldiers.
According to local newspapers, nearly 60 people have been killed in clashes in the region bordering Myanmar and northeast India since late last year.
Following several years of back-channel talks, last week the UPDF submitted a formal proposal for peace talks with a former army major, Emdadul Islam, a key architect of the 1997 agreement.
Islam called the move a “significant development.”
“We will now take the UPDF proposals to the government. We hope we can sign another landmark deal which will secure peace and development in the CHT,” Islam told AFP.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the government was yet to receive the formal proposal. “We always want peace. We are doing everything we can to keep peace. We welcome if they come to peace talks,” Khan told AFP.