At least 22 Rohingya people were slain through “internal” disputes at refugee camps in Bangladesh during the past 11 months, according to police, but members of the uprooted community allege that ARSA insurgents were behind some of those killings.
Bangladeshi authorities have officially denied the presence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, at camps in the country’s southeast that house about a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar’s neighboring Rakhine state.
“Since August last year, 22 Rohingya have been killed in internal conflicts at the camps,” Afrozul Haque Tutul, an additional superintendent of police in the district, told BenarNews. “We have been investigating the causes of the killings.”
About 1,000 police officials could barely cope with providing security at refugee camps in Ukhia and Teknaf – two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar that border Myanmar and where most of the refugees are concentrated, Tutul said.
“We are really struggling to police over one million people who are unemployed. This is really tough,” he said.
Bangladeshi authorities, so far, have never officially announced the arrests of any ARSA suspects. But a senior Bangladeshi government official told BenarNews in April this year that authorities had arrested “several” suspected members of a Rohingya rebel group near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar.
The government source and a senior police officer spoke on condition of anonymity about Bangladeshi efforts to track whether insurgents had infiltrated the massive refugee camps.
Police officials, however, said the 22 killings were the result of criminal activities and not linked to Rohingya insurgents.
“No,” Tutul replied when asked whether ARSA rebels were behind the murders. “ARSA is not active at the camps.”
‘ARSA caused the debacle for us’
Myanmar blamed ARSA insurgents for deadly coordinated attacks on army and police outposts in Rakhine in August 2017 that provoked a brutal crackdown by government security forces. This, in turn, drove more than 700,000 Rohingya to seek shelter in Bangladesh, according to the latest updated estimates from the United Nations.
Many of the killings remain unexplained, authorities told BenarNews, but some Rohingya refugees alleged that ARSA insurgents have been killing community leaders who oppose their views.
On June 18, ARSA members killed a 35-year-old man named Arif Ullah after he had openly declared that he was against ARSA’s extortion activities, one of Ullah’s brothers told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“Arif had been very vocal against ARSA,” he said. “ARSA members collect huge money from the shops inside and around the camps.”
Mohammad Alam, another Rohingya camp leader, told BenarNews that ARSA militants were killing refugee leaders who publicly expressed their support for repatriating the refugees to Rakhine state.
“ARSA caused the debacle for us. They serve the purpose of the Myanmar government, not the Rohingya,” he said.
The U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, last month said it was working with Bangladesh’s government to verify the identities and issue ID cards for Rohingya refugees.
The verification process was expected to last six months and use biometric data, including iris scans and fingerprints, to confirm people’s identities, according to UNHCR.
‘A strategy of the Myanmar government’
On April 9, police in Ukhia entered the Kutupalong refugee camp and arrested a man named Mohammad Shahed, who was allegedly seen in a YouTube video with ARSA leader Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi.
Police officer Abul Khair said officers arrested the 26-year-old man and accused him of illegal possession of bullets for a machine gun.
“He is in jail now. We interrogated him to find out how he got the bullets. He told us that one of his friends gave them to him,” Khair said.
But like other police officials, Khair insisted that the insurgent group was not active in the refugee camp in Ukhia.
But on Jan. 29, members of the insurgent group abducted 55-year-old Rohingya leader Saif Ullah and his brother, Shawkat Ullah, from their quarters in Kutupalong, refugees said.
“They introduced themselves as al-Yaqin when they abducted my brothers,” refugee Senwara Begum, 22, told BenarNews, using the former name of ARSA. “They [the abductors] are Burmese.”
“We’ve known them since the time we lived in Burma,” she said. “My brothers do not support them.”
At least 14 Rohingya refugees who were killed since August last year were hacked to death, said Khair, the police officer.
“Criminal activities are rampant at the camps,” Khair said, who complained that only 400 officers were assigned to safeguard the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp.
“Our policemen have been staying at the abandoned buildings in Ukhia,” he said. “We cannot deploy more forces due to a lack of accommodation facilities for them.”
Mohamad Moniruzzaman, an additional deputy police inspector-general in charge of the intelligence wing at police headquarters, told BenarNews that the Myanmar government very often alleged that ARSA was active at the camps.
“This is a strategy of the Myanmar government. They can justify the military actions against the Rohingya if they can establish the presence of ARSA in Bangladesh,” he said.
In November last year, Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said authorities had launched security sweeps of the refugee camps, but these netted no suspects after Myanmar’s government had handed Dhaka a list of hundreds of alleged ARSA insurgents believed to be hiding out in southeastern Bangladesh.
But according to Rohingya refugee Jamila Begum, 37, the armed men who shot dead her husband, Mohammad Yousuf, were talking in the Rohingya language.
“At around 7:30 p.m., around 18 to 20 masked men entered our room and yelled ‘we are looking for you!’ Then they shot my husband [in the forehead],” she said in her police report, a copy of which was obtained by BenarNews.
The killers were between 25 and 40 years old, she said.
“My husband was in favor of repatriation,” she told BenarNews