BANGLADESH: At least seven people were shot dead during local government elections in Bangladesh's restive Chittagong Hills Tracts, where a low level insurgency has left dozens killed in recent years, police said on Monday.
Unidentified attackers, carrying heavy firearms, sprayed bullets at four SUVs carrying election officials and reserve police as they were returning from a polling centre in a remote hill area in the southeastern tribal district of Rangamati.
"Seven people were killed," local police chief Alamgir Kabir said, adding more than a dozen people were injured.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but police said they suspect supporters of a local candidate, who boycotted the polls, were behind the killings.
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"We've photos of (the candidate) brandishing an AK-47 rifle," a police official said, adding they believe he has ties with the main insurgent group in the region.
Police said they have increased security in the area and have launched a hunt for the killers.
The insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, comprising three districts and a tenth of Bangladesh's landmass, has claimed more than 2,500 lives since it began in the early 1980s, according to official figures.
Despite a peace treaty in 1997 and the withdrawal of most troops from the region, low-intensity unrest has continued as tribal groups demand key clauses of the deal be implemented, including dismantling Bengali settlers' villages and army camps.
In recent years, the main insurgent groups have splintered, resulting in bloody fighting that has claimed dozens of lives including several top leaders of different factions.
Election violence is common in the South Asian nation of 165 million people. The country is holding local government polls, carried out every five years, to elect councillors for some 600 districts.
In December at least 21 people were killed during the national parliamentary polls, which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won by a landslide to secure a record fourth term in power.
Hasina's opposition and some international watchdogs have criticised the elections, saying they were openly rigged.