Rohingya settlement on Bangladesh-Myanmar border torched amid fighting between militant groups

Abdur Rahman
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Rohingya settlement on Bangladesh-Myanmar border torched amid fighting between militant groups This screengrab from a video shows smoke in the distance from a fire at a Rohingya settlement in the no-man’s land between the borders of Bangladesh and Myanmar, Jan. 18, 2023. The community seen in the foreground is in Naikhongchhari, a sub-district of the southeastern Bangladeshi district of Bandarban.
Photo: Benar

A settlement of about 3,000 Rohingya refugees on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border was burnt to the ground Wednesday after an hours-long gunfight between Rohingya militant groups that left at least one person dead, sources said.

The two armed groups engaged one another in a firefight with reports that Rohingya shelters were set ablaze in the no-man’s land along the frontier, causing many to flee for safety into Bangladeshi territory in southeastern Bandarban district, refugees and officials said.

Apart from the report of the one slain Rohingya, at least two others were injured.  

“The camp has been burnt. People are unable to stay due to the gunshots. Now there’s smoke around,” Mohammad Rahim, who was among the uprooted refugees, told a BenarNews correspondent who visited the Tambru border area, where the fighting and arson were reported.

Refugees said the violence lasted 12 hours, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“One person died. Many of us have been injured,” said Asma, a Rohingya girl.

“Some children were also injured. Our houses have been burnt,” she told BenarNews, weeping.

Md. Rahim, a resident of no-man’s land, said he fled to the Bangladesh side of the border to save his life.

“Suddenly, we saw our houses burning. The people could not stay there. The whole area was covered with smoke. Where will we go now?” he said.

In Cox’s Bazar, a neighboring district, a Rohingya association leader said that no one knew as of yet who was responsible for setting fire to the shelters.

“[The fighting took place] far away from the refugee camps on the Bangladesh side. It is closer to the Myanmar side,” Khin Maung, founder of the Rohingya Youth Association, told the Burmese Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“Reports said the fighting broke out between ARSA and RSO,” he said, referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, both Rohingya militant groups. 

Photographs obtained by the BenarNews reporter on Wednesday in Tambru showed two injured men, including one dead man. Both had on camouflage shirts with a patch that bore RSO’s insignia.

According to Khin Maung, there were about 3,000 Rohingya refugees living in the camp in no-man’s land, and there were no more residents there after it was set on fire Wednesday. He said some refugees had fled to Myanmar while others had fled to Bangladesh.

RFA could not independently confirm which group was responsible for the arson.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said he had heard that ARSA rebels may have been involved in Wednesday’s violence near the Burmese border.

“The fighting has happened on the Myanmar side of the no-man’s land. … One person is confirmed dead. The houses of some Rohingya living along the zero point [no-man’s land] of the frontier have been set on fire,” Khan told BenarNews.

“So far, we have come to know that ARSA could be involved in the fighting; they have different conflicting groups. They could have engaged in the fighting.”

The minister added that a handful of Rohingya entered Bangladesh territory to escape the clashes.

“We have taken them in our custody. The situation is under control. They will be sent back tomorrow,” said Khan.

Myanmar security personnel keep watch along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border as a Rohingya refugee looks on from Tombru in the Bangladeshi district of Bandarban, March 1, 2018. [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Bangladesh police officials claimed, meanwhile, that the dead and injured Rohingya lived in the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but they could not explain what these Rohingya were doing in no-man’s land.

The chief of Cox’s Bazar district police, Mahfuzul Islam, said the refugee who was killed, Hamid Ullah, was a resident of Kutupalong camp. Of the two injured Rohingya, one was a resident of the Jadimura camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, and the other was 12 years old, Islam said.

ARSA, or the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, is the militant group that launched deadly attacks on Burmese military and police outposts in Myanmar’s border state of Rakhine in August 2017.

Those attacks provoked a brutal military crackdown that forced some 740,000 people to seek shelter in southeastern Bangladesh, where they now live in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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