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Bangladesh Gov’t Signs Peace Accord

December 2, 1997

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Government and rebel negotiators signed an accord today that ends a 22-year-old separatist war and gives tribesmen greater control over Bangladesh’s resource-rich southeastern hills.

Hours after the accord was signed, several hundred government supporters poured into streets, waving national flags and chanting, ``We want to live in peace!″

The rebels, mainly from the Chakma tribe, have promised to surrender their arms and ammunition in next 45 days under an amnesty provision.

The government has agreed to let three elected district councils control the area’s land management and local police. The councils will be dominated by tribes, which account for two-thirds of the region’s 800,000 people.

The three councils will in turn elect a 22-member regional council, whose main job will be to coordinate their activities. Fifteen members of the regional council will be from the area’s 13 tribes and seven will be Muslim migrants.

``I’m delighted,″ Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told reporters after chief government negotiator Abdul Hasnat Abdullah and rebel leader Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma signed the accord in Dhaka, the capital.

``We are very happy. We look forward to peace in our region,″ Larma said.

The agreement followed a series of peace talks Hasina’s government held with the rebels over the past year. Opposition parties have threatened protest strikes if they decide the government gave away too much.

``We have signed the agreement upholding our sovereignty and the country’s constitution,″ Hasina said. ``The opposition has no reason to instigate people against the accord.″

The conflict has claimed nearly 20,000 lives since it started in late 1975 and blocked the region’s development.

The region, 110 miles southeast of Dhaka, has an area of 5,000 square miles, one-tenth of Bangladesh’s total area. It is rich in timber and gas, and its green hills are a tourist attraction.

Foreign oil companies have recently shown interest in prospecting in the hills and dense forests.

Even before the accord was signed, word that negotiations were nearing success resulted in the return of refugees who fled to neighboring India during 1980s.

At least 11,000 refugees have returned home since April. The government hopes another 39,000 refugees still in India will return soon.

Chakmas are predominately Buddhist, while most other Bangladeshis are Muslim.

Thousands of Muslims have migrated to the region from overcrowded plains over the years, prompting the tribes to complain that their culture is being swamped by newcomers.

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