Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion seized weapons from five Rohingya men and arrested them on suspicion of robbing and kidnapping fellow residents of refugee camps along the southeastern border with Myanmar, a RAB commander told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Monday.
The arrests culminated a weeklong operation in which RAB personnel scoured refugee camps in search of weapons, but there was no evidence that the five men in custody were connected to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents, said Maj. Ruhul Amin, a RAB commander based in Cox’s Bazar district.
“We recovered five ramadas from their possession. Upon questioning, they confessed to involvement in some robberies and kidnappings of fellow Rohingya refugees for ransom,” Amin said, referring to long knives (pictured) that the suspects allegedly possessed.
He said all five worked together and had arrived in the country as part of an ongoing wave of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Buddhist-majority Myanmar, during which nearly 610,000 people crossed the border as they fled a cycle of violence that broke out in Rakhine state on Aug. 25.
“During the initial days of the crisis, there was a sea of Rohingya refugees pouring into Bangladesh. It was impossible to frisk all them as they entered. So there is a possibility that some of them brought in weapons from Myanmar,” the RAB commander said.
At the same time, police officials warned that crime had increased in Cox’s Bazar – which houses the refugee camps – during the past two months.
The five suspects – identified as Abu Bakker Siddique, 20, Mohammad Anwar, 20, Mohammad Faruk, 22, Emran, 22, and Khair Mohammad, 20 – were allegedly involved in a string of robberies and kidnappings in refugee camps in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, Amin said.
“They had done some robberies and were also involved in at least seven kidnappings of fellow Rohingya for ransom. They demanded anywhere between 50,000 taka (U.S. $600) and 200,000 taka ($2,402) for the safe release of each of the victims,” he said.
The suspects targeted refugees who had brought along their cows and gold from Myanmar and those with relatives settled abroad, Amin added.
All the suspects had taken shelter in Ukhia’s sprawling Kutupalong camp, which houses a vast majority of members of the uprooted minority group from Myanmar, according to Amin who led the operation.
The arrests of two other Rohingya refugees – Elias, 25, and Noor Basar, 26 – who were caught allegedly with guns and live ammunition late last month triggered the weeklong search that wrapped up Sunday.
About 50 RAB officials were involved in the operation, Amin said.
“As of now, we have concluded the search operations. But we understand there is a high probability that some more refugees are hiding weapons in the camps. So we have put our officers there in plain clothes to flush them out,” he said.
‘A sea of refugees’
Amin said there was no evidence yet to connect those arrested to the ARSA, a rebel outfit that attacked police outposts in Rakhine on Aug. 25, provoking a brutal counter-offensive by the Myanmar military that has driven refugees across the border.
Last week, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that, during recent bilateral talks in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s government furnished Bangladeshi officials with a list of names of about 500 suspected ARSA members believed to be hiding out on the other side of the border. Myanmar had asked for Bangladesh’s help in finding the suspects.
“We have no idea of such a list. It hasn’t been shared with us,” Amin told BenarNews when asked about the list on Monday.
Meanwhile, the influx has brought about an increase in criminality in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts, where about 15 refugee camps are located, according to police sources.
“About 10 dead bodies have been recovered from the vicinity of the refugee camps since September and at least 30 Rohingya have been arrested so far for crimes such as murder, assault, robbery and drug smuggling,” a police official in Ukhia sub-district told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Teknaf police chief Mainuddin Khan said 10 Rohingya had been arrested on robbery, murder and drug trafficking charges in his sub-district alone.
“We are keeping a close watch on the refugee camps and routinely conduct searches to ensure that anti-social elements don’t feel they can take advantage of this major crisis and carry on with illegal activities. We have a zero-tolerance policy toward refugees taking shelter in Bangladesh and indulging in criminal activities,” Khan told BenarNews.
Ishfaq Ilahi Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based security analyst and retired air commodore, said it was hardly surprising that some miscreants existed among the massive Rohingya population that had entered Bangladesh.
“Among 600,000 refugees, there are bound to be some people who want to create trouble,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.
About 1 million Rohingya refugees, including those who fled earlier cycles of violence in Rakhine, are sheltering in southeastern Bangladesh.
“Although Bangladesh has acknowledged that this community is in dire need of help, there is no denying that the massive influx has put the country’s security at risk,” Chowdhury said, adding that the only solution was to “wait for the influx to stop and then put pressure on Myanmar to take the Rohingya back.”
US official visits
On Sunday, Thomas Shannon, the U.S. under-secretary of state for political affairs, met in Dhaka with Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque to discuss enhancing bilateral political, economic and counterterrorist ties among other topics, as well as the influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
“During the meeting, Under Secretary Shannon thanked the government of Bangladesh for its generosity in responding to the refugees fleeing Burma’s Rakhine State, and expressed appreciation for its continued efforts to ensure assistance reaches the affected population,” a press release from the State Department said.
“He [Shannon] noted that we call on Bangladeshi and Burmese officials to continue developing a framework for the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya communities to Burma and that we urge rapid and complete implementation of the Annan Commission’s recommendations,” the statement added, referring to a commission appointed by Myanmar’s government and headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In August, the commission issued a set of recommendations for defusing tensions in Rakhine, including calling on Myanmar – which is also known as Burma – to review its citizenship laws that exclude Rohingya Muslims from being recognized as citizens.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.