Bangladesh police have arrested nearly 40 refugees, including many suspected of involvement with illegal weapons and drugs, since they launched a crackdown against criminality at Rohingya camps after community leader Muhib Ullah was slain last month, an official said Tuesday.
Among the dozens of Rohingya refugees taken into custody as part of the crackdown, five are suspected of being linked directly to the Sept. 29 killing of Ullah, a prominent Rohingya activist, at his office in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district, according to the authorities.
During a statement before a judge on Saturday, one of suspects confessed to being involved in the killing, police told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
“Police so far arrested 38 Rohingya from different refugee camps since the murder of Muhib Ullah,” Rafiqul Islam, an additional police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews on Tuesday. “Law enforcers are continuing the drives to reduce any offenses or illegal activities in refugee camps.”
Of those taken into custody, five were arrested over their suspected roles in Ullah’s killing, he said, adding that weapons and Yaba (methamphetamine) were recovered from the other 33 people who were taken into custody on suspicion of involvement in different criminal activities.
“Md Elias, 35, one of the five accused in Muhib Ullah’s murder case, has made a confessional statement before a Cox’s Bazar court admitting his involvement in the incident,” Islam said, adding that the suspect appeared in court after being arrested on Oct. 3.
Armed Police Battalion 14 commander Naimul Haque, whose officers arrested Elias at the Kutupalong camp, said a special hotline number was launched in the Rohingya camps on Sunday and that the identities of those who call would be kept confidential.
“Camp dwellers were asked to inform the law enforcers about criminals or criminal activities through the hotline,” he said.
About 1 million Rohingya live in refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district that borders Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
As many as 740,000 Rohingya fled across the border after the Burmese military launched a brutal offensive in August 2017, in response to deadly raids mounted on government outposts in Rakhine by Rohingya rebels.
Efforts between Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in the Rakhine state have failed since soon after the 2017 mass exodus to Bangladesh began.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the rebel group blamed for the 2017 attacks on police posts in Rakhine, issued a video message on Monday that went viral.
“ARSA is in favor of a safe and dignified full repatriation which Muhib Ullah also wanted. There was no difference between the work of ARSA and Muhib Ullah,” Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, the group’s commander-in-chief, said in the video message.
“Myanmar agents or any other international NGO, those who are against the repatriation, have killed Muhib Ullah and now are trying to get an advantage by accusing ARSA. The killing made the Myanmar military government very happy,” Ataullah said.
Police in Bangladesh said they were investigating the source of the ARSA video.
“We are collecting all the video and audio messages that spread among the Rohingya in various ways since Muhib Ullah’s murder,” said Islam, the additional police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar.
Habib Ullah, who filed a complaint with Ukhia police accusing unnamed people of killing his brother, had previously told BenarNews that ARSA members were responsible.
Foreign ministry visit
On Saturday, a four-member Bangladeshi foreign ministry delegation led by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen visited the office at the Kutupalong camp where Muhib Ullah, the chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, was gunned down by a group of armed intruders.
Muhib Ullah’s group maintained a database of information related to alleged atrocities carried out by the Burmese military against Rohingya during the 2017 offensive in Rakhine.
“The delegation at the beginning asked me if ARSA was my brother’s killer? I replied ‘yes.’ And, I asked them to ensure our security,” Habib Ullah told BenarNews.
Momen did not share details about his conversations, but said the ministry remained committed to helping the refugees return to their home villages across the border.
“The killing of Rohingya leader Muhib Ullah will not have any impact on repatriation of Rohingya people to their homeland Myanmar,” Momen told reporters. “Five persons have been arrested over the Muhib Ullah killing and the government is taking into account the incident with due importance.”
Also on Saturday, Bangladesh’s government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) for humanitarian relief efforts on Bhashan Char, a remote Bay of Bengal island where 19,000 Rohingya have been relocated. The government plans to house 100,000 on the island.
The MoU covers “key areas of protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods, and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for a sustainable return to Myanmar in the future,” UNHCR said in a news release.
Some Rohingya in the refugee camps welcomed the pact.
“We are very happy for the MoU. Many Rohingya already showed interest in going to Bhashan Char,” Mohammad Amin, a Rohingya leader in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
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