Nathan Bom: A DU Fine Arts Student Turned into a Separatist of the Hill

Hiren Pandit: Nathan Bom is a graduate of Dhaka University’s Fine Arts Institute. Now, he is the main leader of the separatist armed organization Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). A Fine Arts student turned armed separatist, Nathan Bom was once associated with leftist politics. He has become the terror of the hills, a name of horror to all.
He was born and grew up in the Aden neighborhood of Ruma Upazila. First, he established a non-governmental organization called Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO) in his area. Now, he is in hiding. Meanwhile, after the start of the operation of the law and order forces targeting the militants’ training camp, a Facebook page of KNF threatened, “If there is any attempt to attack our headquarters near Phiangpadung neighborhood, then it will become a matter of 1-2 minutes to take a terrible form.”
Under the umbrella of hill organizations involved in anti-militant operations, where the militants were training, coordinated operations were started. These things came up in the media. Nathan Bom got involved in terrorist activities mainly to ace Santu Larma, the leader of Chattogram Hill Tracts. He is one of the artists who made the sculpture of Manabendra Larma next to Changi Square in Khagrachari. This armed group recently targeted Thanchi police station after attacking three branches of two banks in two upazilas of Bandarban, armed robbery and abduction within 17 hours. It is said to have been built by some people of the Bom ethnic group of Bandarban, known under the leadership of Nathan Bom.
They came into the discussion after opening a Facebook Page in the name of the KNF organization and demanding a separate state for Baghaichhari, Barkal, Jurachhari, and Bilaichhari in Rangamati and Rowangchhari, Ruma, Thanchi, Lama, and Alikadam in Bandarban. They claim they represent the six ethnic groups of Bom, Pankhwa, Lusai, Khiang, Mro, and Khumi. They also provide a map of that fictional state on their page.
They claim that hundreds of members of their military wing migrated to Myanmar’s Kachin province for guerrilla training a few years ago. A trained team returns in 2021. Many go into hiding this year. However, many claim that efforts are being made to bring KNF back to everyday life.
The issue of training of militants in KNF camps started coming into the media. KNF has been accused of providing training to Jamaatul Ansar in return for money from the hill armed group KNF. Training begins at KNF camp. According to media reports, more than 50 militants participated in training at the camp. The new militant organization Jamaatul Ansar Phil Hindal Sharqiya set up a training camp at the KNF camp in remote Hills. According to the sources concerned, a coordinated operation of law and order forces was conducted targeting that camp in Bandarban. KNF is a relatively new organization in the hills. Although it was formed on the initiative of a section of the Bom ethnic group, they claim that they represent six ethnic groups.
A few years ago, 55 youths from 19 districts of the country left their homes in the name of ‘Hijrat’ to join the new militant outfit, Jamaatul Ansar, a press conference organized by RAB said at the time. A list of the full names and addresses of 38 of the 55 was also released. At that time, it was reported that many of these youths who were homeless or missing were in training camps set up in KNF camps in remote areas of Bandarban.
According to sources related to the investigation in this incident, the 12 people of Jamaatul Ansar who were arrested, the interrogation, and the analysis of the information obtained got an idea about the militant training center on the hill. It is believed that there were still more than 50 members of Jamaatul Ansar. Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, which Bengali means Supporters of Former Hinds, was formed on the initiative of some leaders of the three banned militant organizations Ansar Al Islam, JMB, and Harkatul Jihad, according to law enforcement agencies. They started organizing in 2017 but decided the organization’s name in 2019.
According to law enforcement agencies, various militant organizations in the country have tried to establish hideouts or bases in the hills in the past. Some buy land, some establish small madrasas or some other process. Sometimes, it is tried under the guise of voluntary organizations or NGOs. However, there was no news in the media about training a religious militant group in the hideout of an armed group in the Chattogram Hill Tracts.
According to the law enforcement agency on the new militant outfit, Jamaat-ul-Ansar kept its handpicked youths in small groups under the custody of senior members. After that, basic training and physical exercise are given. Later, the passers are sent to the KNF camp in Bandarban for training. Training of these militants in KNF camps includes training in handling AK-47 rifles, pistols, and shotguns, making bombs or IEDs, and ambush training. According to media reports, KNF has given this facility to militants in exchange for money.
According to counter-terrorism law enforcement agencies, reports of renewed militant activity date back several years. Because some information is available from the arrested militants of various organizations, including Harkatul Jihad, a few years ago, in particular, he established links with new militant organizations with the KNF. At the beginning of 2022, the name of KNF came to attention, and news of their various activities started coming. Basically, this group announced its existence by opening a Facebook page. There was armed activity. It was built by a few people from the Bam community of Bandarban and led by Nathan Bam.
The KNF hideout is near Salapaupara in Ruma Upazila, bordering India and Myanmar. Law enforcement forces arrested several members of Jamaat-ul-Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya and KNF in a raid last year. KNF has carried out nine major terrorist incidents in the last two years. Five army personnel were killed in four attacks by KNF terrorists last year. Eight people were killed in the Khamtangpara area of Rowangchari upazila and one in Ruma upazila last year in a clash with a section of UPDF, another armed group.
Apart from this, on May 8 last year, three members of the Bom community, including an Awami League leader, were shot dead in Rowangchari upazila. On March 22, 2023, a shopkeeper named Thongchul Bom was shot dead in Ramtharpara of the same upazila. On June 21, 2022, three persons were shot dead by terrorists in the Saizam neighborhood of Barathali Union of Bilaichhari, Rangamati.
When law and order forces confirmed the KNF’s relationship with the militants and launched an operation, various areas of the hills, especially Ruma, Thanchi, were practically isolated. Tourism in those areas has been closed for a long time. Some of them crossed the border into Mizoram, India. The ordinary people of Bom ethnic groups are in trouble. KNF took advantage of this time. Then, they recruit several young people to join the group.
The Chattogram Hill Tracts Jana Sanhati Samiti, or JSS, started an armed struggle in the Chattogram Hill Tracts in the mid-1970s to demand autonomy. Their armed wing was known as Shanti Bahini. This armed movement lasted over two decades and ended on December 2, 1997, after the historic Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement. During this armed struggle, several small armed groups, along with Garam Bani, were formed in the hills. But they didn’t last long. After the agreement, anti-agreement Hill youth formed the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF). The conflict between JSS and them has not stopped even today.
Among these, in 2007, a part of JSS broke away from the leading group and formed another organization called JSS Lerma Græp. In the middle of 2011, a party named Mro National Party or MNP was formed in Alikadam of Bandarban. The group was involved in various terrorist activities, including murder and kidnapping. Then, in November 2015, 79 members of the group surrendered together. After that, the activities of the group stopped. In the same year, another armed group was formed in Alikadam with some young members of the Tripura ethnic group. Its chief, Rangjuma Tripura, is in hiding. That party also has no activity now.
In November 2017, another party named UPDF Ganantantrik was formed. The group emerged through killings and attacks on UPDF workers. Ahead of the 2018 national elections, an armed group called the Mog Party started operating in Bandarban. According to local sources, some members of the Marma ethnic group formed this group.
This attack by the KNF has far-reaching implications. As a result, many fear that the peace in the hills, especially in the areas dominated by the KNF, may be very uncertain. Maybe forge new contacts with the KNF or some other major armed group in the hills. We must now be alert to the ongoing armed conflict with the local Meiteis with the Kukis of Manipur, India, the armed activities of the KNF, and the ongoing conflict between the government forces and various groups in Myanmar.
But they will be welcomed if they want to surrender without armed means. Law enforcement officials said that their rehabilitation will also be considered. Around 100 terrorists, including KNF members, have been arrested so far. Where is KNF chief Nathan Bom now? No one knows the answer. According to the team, Nathan Bom is in Switzerland. Security analysts believe he is in the Netherlands. Some people think Nathan Bom is across the border in Mizoram, India. All in all, his position is still hazy.
The media also has no accurate account of where the other party members are hiding. Many believe that a significant number of group members are now in Bangladesh. However, more members may be spread over different areas of Myanmar and Mizoram. KNF believes that the people of Kukichin, i.e., Bom, Pankhwaa, Lusai, Khumi, Mro, and Khiang, are the natives of Chattogram Hill Tracts. However, they are victims of deprivation by the government and the larger population in these territories.
Many people also say that the peaceful Boms live peacefully with other ethnic groups. They have no separate claim. KNF also wants to change the traditional land management of Chattogram Hill Tracts. The Hill Tracts have long been divided into Chakma, Bomang, and Mang circles. The three circle chiefs or kings collect revenue on behalf of the government. Unlike the 61 districts of Bangladesh, the land management here is legally recognized. But the KNF wants the circle chiefs or headmen of Mauza to have no power on land.
The land is one of the problems of hills. The primary reason for this problem in the Hill Tracts is the internal migration of at least four lakh Plains Bengalis during the military government in the 1980s. Many Bengali settlements were built in the age-old abode of the hill people. In this, the highland problem becomes more complicated. Even after two years of the formation of the land commission, even one’s land problem has not been resolved. People of any ethnic group in the hills have to face the complexity of the land. But KNF says any Pahari and Bengali can settle in their imagined KTC. Even small ethnic groups and Bengalis in any region of the country can come and buy land!
Why did this relatively new armed organization of the hills become so reckless, or what could be the reason behind this attack? The KNF initially backed away from the demand for a new state in the hills and now wants an autonomous body like the KTC. While many of these basic demands have changed, their position on one issue, namely opposition to the JSS and regional councils, has not changed. Their animosity towards JSS, the first political party in the hills, remains as before. Along with that, there is regional council and chakma hatred.
Through the agreement of the Hill Tracts, two particular institutions, regional councils, and three district councils were formed in the hills. Local government experts believe that these two institutions are unique among the local government institutions of Bangladesh. However, the implementation process of the Mountain Agreement was not easy. Many resettled Bengalis opposed the agreement. A section of the hill-residers opposes the accord with the United People’s Democratic Front or UPDF and demands full autonomy. Despite these objections, the agreement was reached. After the agreement, BNP-Jamaat came to power in 2001 but did not cancel the agreement.
The three hill districts’ important permanent traditional administrative positions are chiefship and headman. Most of them belong to the Chakma or Marma community. Chakma dominates union, upazila, business, NGO administrative positions, and Marma people. Apart from Chakma and Marma, other groups are also angry about this.
But to date, there has been no election in three Zilla Parishads. When the government is in power, their people sit in the Zilla Parishad. Since there was no district council election, there was no regional council election either. They believe the regional council has been rendered ineffective due to the agreement. They are also disappointed that important issues like land and own police have not been addressed after the agreement. The committee meeting to implement the agreement was thwarted several times due to the strong opposition of the local Bengali organizations.
The regional councils, the JSS, and the Chakma ethnicities may have been openly persecuted by the KNF, considering them parallel. But such hatred is not new in the hills. Among the 11 minor ethnic groups of the Hill Tracts, the Chakmas are the majority. They also advance in various fields, including education. By seeing the activities of KNF, everyone will understand what or who is behind it. The main task of these groups is to subvert the spirit of the Agreement.
KNF was formed with the people of Bom, Pankhwa, Lusai, Khiang, Mro and Khumi ethnic groups. Most of the ethnic groups follow Christianity. The civil and police administration is now watching everything in the hills. The KNF has been active in recent years, not only in these areas of Bangladesh but also in Myanmar’s Chin and Rakhine states and India’s Mizoram and Manipur states. Kuki-chin has a significant influence in these areas. The National Defense Force or CDF, a rebel group in Chin province, is fighting the Myanmar government. Most of that group is Kuki-Chin. Also, in Mizoram, many cookies have gone from here. It is creating various kinds of unrest there.
Manipur has recently seen significant clashes between the Kukis and the Meitei circle. As a result, many believe that the KNF was formed and became active here inspired by the multifaceted movements and activities of the Kuki-Chinese across the border. Many fear that they are getting arms and patronage from those places. They are now demanding autonomy over large areas of Bandarban. However, they are not talking about the Kuki-Chinese-controlled areas across the border with it.
Ruma, Thanchi, and Alikadam are far apart. The attacks at three places within a short period of time show that the KNF has organized these attacks in several groups. The force they have shown seems to suggest that they want to turn the area into a war zone. This area was mentioned as a tribal area at the beginning of Hill Tracts. The agreement also calls for preserving the characteristics of the region. This agreement was signed in 1997 during the Awami League government.
The leading persons of the hills, local government experts, and researchers on the hills say that this agreement was a unique example of regional autonomy and decentralization of the administrative system. The goal of self-governance and decentralization would have been achieved if three critical points of the agreement were resolved. The matter of land is entrusted to the Zilla Parishad as per the agreement. Preparation of a uniform voter list of permanent residents of Hills. Under the supervision of the Zilla Parishad, the system of recruitment of manpower below the Sub-Inspector of Police or SI.
JSS leaders are contesting Union Parishad, Upazila, and Parliament elections without a permanent resident voter list and winning, too. So where is the problem? Many people say this, too. The central theme of the JSS movement was decentralization, as was the spirit of the agreement. Many people also think that there is no positive change. There are positive and negative statements about the agreement’s implementation, and the problem should be solved by keeping them in mind.
Hiren Pandit is an Essayist, Researcher and Columnist

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