Kamal Uddin Mazumder: In early 2022, the general people of Bangladesh suddenly noticed a political articulation of an armed political organization named Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). Members of the organization maintain a Facebook page titled: Kuki-Chin National Front-KNF, through which they are seen making the photographs and military training videos of their regulars, and political statements public, specifically, propagating concocted tales about a separate state. Initially, it seemed a local separatist group that cooked untrue information to destabilize the Chittagong hill tracts. But with the recent killings and gunfights in remote border areas, KNF is gradually emerging as a dangerous threat in the hills, endangering the life of the hilly people.
Who are they?
The Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) demands a separate State in the CHT of Bangladesh with full-fledged autonomy to the present government. KNF was established in 2008 with some educated circles of the backward and disadvantaged Kuki-Chin communities. Intending to organize a Kuki-Chin ethnic race, the organization has been continuing to prepare muscle power and spread cocktail information to the targeted audience as India and Myanmar are also home to a sizable population of the Kuki-Chin ethnic group.
The KNF is made up of people from six small ethnic groups, namely Bom, Mro, Lusai, Khumi, Khyang, and Pangkhua. The compound word refers to the Bom ethnic group only. They consider themselves the original inhabitants of the CHT. At the same time, they consider the Chakma, Marma, and Tripura communities to be belonging to the Myanmar and Indian ethnic groups and outsiders. This is why the KNF members are hostile towards regional groups like Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) and spread terror in villages to establish supremacy.
Activities of KNF
For more than a decade, KNF leaders have been accused of discriminatory and stepmotherly behavior by both larger communities and the government in their inhabited regional lands. The leaders of this organization have also expressed their anger over the government. Their demands were getting tougher and tougher as the government had not taken any action before 2022. The organization even claimed that the entire region from Sajek Valley in the northeastern part of Chittagong Hill Tracts to the southeast and the entire region in the eastern part of Chittagong Hill Tracts is their ancestral territory (namely Baghaichari, Juraichari, Borkol, Bilaichari, Rwangchari, Ruma, Thanchi, Lama and Alikadam).
It is believed that implicitly the KNF does not support the Peace Treaty, which they feel overwhelmingly supports the Chakma clan. The JSS played a leading role in the peace accord. The accord allowed for the recognition of the rights of the peoples and tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region and ended the decades-long insurgency between the Shanti Bahini and government forces. But in another way, this accord restricts new cantonments and army deployment in CHT, which made it easy for KNF to terrorize the communities.
The KNF had tried to create an image to show themselves fighting for the oppressed, excluded, and right-loving people, in a bid to earn support from the masses and humanitarian quarters. But with the passage of days, their self-contradictory character is getting clear and exposed to the people all by itself. KNF leaders have been attempting to bring in a change in the history of CHT by introducing untrue historical information. But now, the cheap and deceitful activities of KNF have left nothing secret under the sky.
Why did the KNF start an armed struggle?
Although this organization, in the initial period, was established to promote economic development, preservation of cultural features, and protect land grabbing, KNF became an armed branch in 2016 due to special needs. The group even called on the international community to intervene in their problems internationally as the aim of this organization is to establish a separate and autonomous region.
In 2017, the organization conducted armed activities under the name KNV. It later strengthened ties with Karen rebel groups in Manipur State and Burma, sending several hundred members of the organization to Manipur State and later hundreds of active members for training in Kachin, Karen State, and Manipur State in the same year. In 2019, the commandos returned to the hill district after training. They are believed to have 2,000 members armed with heavy weapons, including AK 47, in the Jampui hills of Bandarban’s Ruma border and Mizoram border of India.
The KNF was officially launched as an armed organization with 2,000 members in the hills in May last year. In October, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested 10 suspected militants and separatists along with a large cache of firearms and ammunition after conducting an operation in the remote areas of Bandarban and Rangamati. Later the arrestees disclosed that the militant group had an agreement with the separatist group Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) to provide them with shelter and training in exchange for money. Now the members of the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA), the armed wing of the KNF, are challenging the security forces in the CHT after being armed with heavy weapons.
Regional and National Security at risk
The KNF alleged that coordinated attacks by the Arakan Army on the Bom people had “led to countless people fleeing” their houses and villages to the neighboring countries for safety. In fact, communities except the Bom are internally displaced and the families flee to neighboring countries under suppressive measures of the regime.
The existence of such an armed group in isolated border regions has also put regional and national security at risk. On the Indian border side, Mizoram shares 318 kilometers of border with Bangladesh. In the isolated regions of Mizoram state, there are several separatist organizations as well. On the other side, various rebel organizations such as the Arakan Army, Chin Defense Force, and Chin National Army are present in the Chin state of Myanmar. The connection and cooperation of KNF with these organizations will exacerbate the instability in the entire region.
KNF is out to destabilize the peace and security of the region. It is seriously maintaining its media presence through social media and continuously propagating its insurgent agenda. It is high time for the security forces to address the growing concern. Bangladesh may also ask India to monitor that no Kuki-Chin terrorist can flee to India in disguise as a refugee. As well as ask India and Myanmar to enhance their border security so that any terrorists or extremist groups cannot leave the country.
The KNF came to the spotlight again after two soldiers of the Bangladesh Army were killed in attacks reportedly carried out by the KNA in Bandarban. Earlier, the KNF was engaged in vile activities designed to create confusion by spreading untrue information and data. But now they have chosen violence and created a transnational security threat. As Bangladesh has a ‘zero tolerance against terrorism’ policy, law enforcement forces are fighting intensely with KNA. Following this, Bangladesh is trying hard to bring stability to CHT. Through these operations, peace may come to the CHT permanently as after every storm, there is a rainbow.
Writer: Kamal Uddin Mazumder is a researcher and Strategic affairs analyst.