Authorities in Bangladesh say they have not arrested any Rohingya refugees in connection with the killings of Hindus in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, days after officials in the neighboring country accused Rohingya militants of carrying out a massacre there.
But police are looking for suspects in the killing of two Hindu refugees in Bangladesh, which their relatives blame on members of the Al-Yaqin insurgent group, also known as the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA).
ARSA is also accused of deadly violence in Rakhine last month that triggered a Rohingya refugee exodus toward southeastern Bangladesh.
“No, we have not arrested any Rohingya in connection with the discovery of mass graves of Hindus in Rakhine,” Iqbal Hossain, the chief of police in Cox’s Bazar district, told BenarNews on Wednesday. “It’s not true. We haven’t arrested anyone.”
On Tuesday, a member of Myanmar’s human rights commission had told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, that authorities had passed information about alleged perpetrators to officials in Bangladesh and that six Rohingya refugees had been arrested as a result.
Myanmar has been facing harsh international criticism for a crackdown on Rohingya communities in Rakhine state that a U.N. official described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The security operations were launched after ARSA members launched coordinated attacks on police posts in Rakhine on Aug. 25.
About 480,000 refugees have poured into Bangladesh since then, including about 500 Hindus from Rakhine State.
On Sunday, Myanmar’s government said that the ARSA members who carried out the Aug. 25 attacks had also killed some 100 people from several Hindu villages in the area. Authorities said they had uncovered mass graves in Maungdaw township that held the bodies of 45 members of the Hindu minority. Reporters were escorted to the spot Wednesday to view the bodies.
In a statement posted on Wednesday via Twitter, ARSA denied it had committed atrocities.
“Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) categorically denies that any of its members or combatants perpetrated murder, sexual violence or forcible recruitment in the villages of Fakirabazar, Riktapara, and Chikonchhari in Maungdaw on or about 25 August 2017,” the statement said.
ARSA urged the Burmese government to stop “victim-blaming” and allow the investigation of “human rights abuses and atrocities” in Rakhine state.
Hindu refugees who spoke to BenarNews in Cox’s Bazar, which has taken in most of the Rohingya refugees, said Wednesday that they were unaware of the unearthing of mass graves in Rakhine.
One of them, Nitai Shil, said that 112 Hindu families had fled their village of Chikonchhari in Maungdaw, one of the villages mentioned in the statement from ARSA.
“People covered in black masks encircled us for seven days. Our neighbors warned us that they would slaughter us if we did not flee," he said, adding that he was unable to identify any group they came from.
At least 12 Hindus were killed before they made it to Bangladesh, Shil said.
Sanju Bala said she lost her husband, two daughters and a grandson.
“The masked men were talking both in the Mogh [Rakhine Buddhist] and Rohingya languages,” she said.
“The Hindus and the Muslims live in the same village. There was no problem. We cannot identify those who encircled the village,” she said.
‘They are al-Yaqin’
Iqbal Hossain, the local police chief, said officers were guarding the place where Hindu refugees were sheltering near Kutupalong camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar district, following an abduction and murder earlier this month.
On Sept. 17, a group of 10 Hindu refugees went to another settlement to claim money from a livestock sale from some Muslims in their village.
“Some residents of our village called my father telling that he should take the money coming from the sale of our cows and goats. My father went and he did not return,” Rekha Bala, daughter of Ravindra Paul, told BenarNews.
Police recovered Paul’s dead body on Sept. 24. Another member of the group is still missing and presumed dead.
Eight others were held captive for four days, then released.
“They tied my hands in the back. They poked my body with sharp objects. They were armed, too. They told us that the Hindus were their enemies,” Modhuram Paul told BenarNews, showing marks from injuries on his body.
“They are Al-Yaqin members; I can identify them,” he said.
Hossain said they were investigating the incident.
Abdur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to this report.