Bangladeshi authorities have relocated at least 17 Christian Rohingya families to a U.N. shelter as a temporary measure to safeguard them, officials said Tuesday, after machete-wielding Muslim Rohingya men attacked a community of Christians in a refugee camp and wounded at least 12 people.
The attack took place Monday at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district, one of the victims and a Christian group told BenarNews. But police said only four Christians and one Muslim were wounded, and described the violence as an “ordinary law-and-order incident.”
“The Christian Rohingya families have been taken to a UNHCR transit camp,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
He said the refugees would be given temporary shelter at the U.N. refugee agency’s transit camp for their security and would be taken back to their makeshift homes at the Kutupalong refugee camp “when the tense situation is over.”
“If we think they can live at the old camps without danger, they will be going back to the old camps,” he said. “If they do not feel secure at the old camps, they can be shifted to other camps.”
One of the alleged victims, Saiful Islam Peter, a Christian Rohingya, said the attackers had destroyed victims’ homes and stolen their ration cards, computers and documents.
He also repeated allegations in an interview with BenarNews that members of the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had perpetrated the attack.
“The Muslim terrorist group ARSA destroyed our homes and church. They were armed and they looted all of our household goods,” he said.
Saiful said that out of the 25 families living in the Christian community, 17 families had taken shelter at the UNHCR transit camp.
Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, the UNHCR spokesman in Dhaka, declined to comment on the relocation of the refugees at the agency’s transit camp, saying the issue was “sensitive.”
A BenarNews correspondent was also blocked from entering the U.N. refugee agency’s office in Cox’s Bazar as he sought comments from officials related to the incident.
The ARSA insurgent group, which claims to be fighting oppression of Rohingya Muslims, carried out attacks on police and army posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.
In response to the militant attacks, Myanmar’s security forces launched a crackdown that drew global attention after more than 740,000 Rohingya fled their homes and crossed into neighboring Bangladesh.
On Monday, police in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar where the Kutupalong camp is located, brushed aside the allegation that ARSA was involved, and said that Saiful himself had initiated the communal clash following an argument.
Selim Adnan, another Christian Rohingya, told BenarNews outside the UNHCR transit camp in Ukhia that the attack injured at least eight Christian refugees.
“The Rohingya terrorists suddenly attacked us,” he said, adding that they had informed the police “but they [police] did not take any action.”
Mohammad Abul Mansur, the officer-in-charge of Ukhia police station, rejected allegations that the security forces took no action after the attacks.
“None has filed any case regarding the attack on the Christians. So, we haven’t arrested anyone,” Mansur told BenarNews. “We will take action if allegations have been registered.”
Iqbal Hossain, an additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, dismissed reports that militants attacked the Christian community.
“This is a crime of ordinary nature,” he said. “The situation at the place of occurrence is in total control of the police.”
Bangladesh officially denies the presence of Rohingya rebels in the refugee camps, but government and police sources have privately acknowledged arresting “several” of the insurgents in recent months.