Bangladesh cannot play with our lives like this, says Tripura CM

Even as the 12-hour bandh called to protest against the killing of 32 people by insurgents of the banned All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) ended peacefully this evening, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar chose to lay the blame for the latest round of militant violence at Bangladesh’s door, brushing aside questions regarding the alienation of indigenous Tripuris in the state. “If you want to help, talk about the militants’ camps in Bangladesh. They (Bangladeshis) cannot play with our lives like this…” Sarkar said. Security forces have, meanwhile, been asked to seal off the state’s border with Bangladesh, a decision that may have come too late with the militants reportedly having fled to their camp in Satcheri, about two kilometres from the international border in the neighbouring country. The chief minister’s view notwithstanding, the recent violence has, however, brought into focus the clash between the Bengali community and indigenous Tripuris yet again.
Today’s bandh had been called by the ruling Left Front along with the opposition Congress-INPT(The indigenous people's front of Tripura) alliance. According to the police, more than 20 ‘collaborators’ had been picked up for questioning. Asked if the insurgents had sent feelers to the government for talks, Sarkar said there was no such move by the militants. “We are asking them to come back to the mainstream,” he said. “If they don’t, we will fight them with all our strength.”
The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the Indo-Bangladesh border has, meanwhile, come in for sharp criticism, with people from the affected area claiming that the security forces did not respond to the attack even after people ran to the border out-posts asking for help. According to reports received in Agartala, the blue-print for the first attack, carried out on midnight Tuesday at Simna in West Tripura was drawn up in the presence of the ATTF chief Ranjit Debbarma, at the Satcheri camp. Sarkar, however, was sympathetic: “It would not be right to comment based on this one incident,” he said. ”There are simply not enough BSF personnel.” The situation had been aggravated by the lack of a border fence between India and Bangladesh, Sarkar said.
Indigenous Tripuris comprise barely 30 per cent of the state’s total population of three million, down from 90 per cent in 1949, when the princely state merged with the Indian union. The drop in the Tripuri population is attributed to the influx of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh. Groups such as the ATTF and NLFT have cashed in on the disenchantment, especially on issues such as the introduction of Bengali by the CPI(M) government as the script for Kokborok, the language of Tripuris, in 1995. Tripuris prefer to use the Roman script for their language. Sarkar, expectedly, brushed aside the issue saying “no one can force anything on anyone”.
The latest carnage bore all the signs of insurgent brutality in the region. In the first case on midnight Tuesday, suspected ATTF insurgents first set houses ablaze at a village in and fired at their occupants, later hacking them as they tried to escape. The attack left 20 people dead and five injured. The victims were members of the Bengali community. In the second incident, that cane about 20 hours after the first, suspected NLFT insurgents fired indiscriminately at a marketplace in Kalyanpur in the same district, killing 10 people and injuring three others. In both the cases, the militants were reportedly accompanied by Bangladeshi citizens. Militants also gunned down two other people in Kumarghat of North Tripura district.

By Amit Rai Choudhuri in Agartala and Pranab Bora in New Delhi (newsfiledelhi@hotmail.com)
May 8, 2003