Bangladesh: Rohingya express fear after killings of leader, six others
Refugees blame ARSA militants for deadly attacks, but police deny the group's existence.
Rohingya in Bangladesh are living in fear and many don’t leave their shelters after dark following the killings of a prominent leader and six others within a month in Cox’s Bazar, residents told BenarNews.
Some refugees said they had received threats from members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Police said security has been beefed up in the camps to prevent further bloodshed – noting that some militants were calling themselves ARSA to create chaos.
“Since Muhib Ullah’s murder and the six killings, Rohingya people at the camps have been passing their days in great panic,” Dil Mohammad told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Tuesday.
Muhammad is the head of the madrassa at the Balukhali refugee camp in the Ukhia sub-district of Cox’s Bazar where six Rohingya were killed in a pre-dawn attack last Friday.
“They wanted to take control of the madrassa, but we did not agree with them. We go by our own ideology and work in favor of repatriation [to Myanmar]. Their activities go against the [Bangladesh] government,” said Mohammad, who has been in police custody for his own protection and no longer stays at the madrassa.
“Since Muhib Ullah’s murder, law enforcers have been conducting drives against criminals every night. They use this madrassa for the convenience of their operation.”
Rohingya leader Muhib Ullah was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on the night of Sept. 29 in his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar.
So far, police have arrested 23 suspects – nine in connection with the killing of Ullah, and 14 connected to the killings of the six Rohingya, officials said.
Police, meanwhile, have continued to deny the existence of ARSA, a militant group whose 2017 attack on government outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state led to a brutal a crackdown against Rohingya, causing about 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh.
“There is no ARSA presence at the camps, some groups claim [to be] ARSA,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews when asked if the group was responsible for the killings.
“We have been investigating the killings. The anti-repatriation groups could have perpetrated the attacks,” Khan said.
“Also, there are groups in the camps seeking to establish supremacy over criminal activities at the camps – any of the groups could have carried out the attacks.”
Bangladesh and Myanmar officials agreed in late 2017 on a plan to repatriate thousands of Rohingya to their homeland in Rakhine state. Since then, efforts to return the refugees to Myanmar have failed.
‘Nights are dreadful’
The mother-in-law of Md. Amin, one of last week’s victims, said she and others have some courage during the day, but are severely stressed.
“The nights are dreadful. They have been threatening to kill us by burning our block. So we are so fearful that we think twice before stepping out,” Hamida Khatun, 55, told BenarNews.
Khatun, who blames ARSA, said Amin had stepped out of their home when militants caught him and shot him.
“The bullets pierced his left jaw. They stabbed him, cut his leg vein and severed a hand,” she said.
A 9-year-old madrassa student described the attack.
“Suddenly, the al-Yaqin attacked our madrassa,” he told BenarNews, referring to ARSA by another name.
“They slaughtered and shot whoever they got in their reach. We have been in great fear lest al-Yaqin attacks us again,” the student said, adding that his older brother was seriously injured.
A camp leader who requested anonymity over security concerns, also blamed ARSA members and called them desperate.
“The government has been providing us security, but will they give us security all year round? They killed six people within less than one month of Muhib Ullah’s murder. The incidents make the people concerned about their safety and security,” he said.
“ARSA has been targeting Rohingya who have been aiding the law enforcement agencies. So the people are not interested in helping the law enforcement agencies,” he said.
‘ARSA activity favors the Myanmar military’
Despite these concerns, a police official said the camp is safe.
On Tuesday, the area around the madrassa appeared desolate except for armed police officers who stood guard.
“The law-and-order situation at the camp has been under total control. The security measures in the madrassa and neighboring areas have been beefed up,” Mohammad Sihab Kawser Khan told BenarNews.
“We have been providing security to the affected people,” said Kawser, commander of the armed police battalion in charge of security of the camps.
Former foreign secretary Md. Touhid Hossain questioned the government’s denial of ARSA in Bangladesh.
“ARSA is present at the Rohingya camps. But the government does not want to recognize its presence for strategic reasons,” he said.
“Every ARSA activity favors the Myanmar military and goes against Bangladesh’s interests,” Hossain said.
Earlier this week, ARSA denied responsibility for the killings in a post on Twitter. It blamed what it called “ARSA 2.0,” a “criminal gang that is responsible for many crimes in refugee camps and beyond.”
Hossain pointed out that Muhib Ullah had been working to build public support for repatriation efforts before he was killed.
“They killed six people who had been working to encourage Rohingya to repatriate, and assisting law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order inside the camps,” Hossain said about the madrassa attack.
“There was connivance between ARSA and the Myanmar military.”
Hossain noted that about 300 madrassas have been established in the refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar.
“The internecine conflicts are mainly for controlling these madrassas,” he said.
“In the future, this violence could spill into the neighboring areas and create security threats in Bangladesh.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.