By Abdur Rahman and Sharif Khiam
Two Rohingya have been detained and Bangladesh authorities are searching for others after pictures and videos circulated on social media of an event apparently marking the sixth anniversary of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in several refugee camps.
A Rohingya leader said the Oct. 9 event, called “Happy Day” was the first time the armed organization openly declared its presence in the Cox’s Bazar-area camps, which are home to about 1 million refugees.
“Two Rohingya refugees have been detained and Bangladesh authorities are searching for others,” Faruk Ahmed, assistant superintendent of the Armed Police Battalion, told BenarNews.
The two, identified as Mohammad Joynal, 32, and Bakkar Uddin, 19, were detained in the Ukhia Balukhali camp-10 in Cox’s Bazar on Sunday and Monday, according to Faruk.
“Joynal was directly involved in hanging posters and spreading propaganda in favor of miscreants at the refugee camps,” Faruk said. “We already got some names from Joynal and we hope more names of those involved in this conspiracy will be revealed during interrogations.”
Police said “necessary legal action” has been taken against the two, who were handed over to officers at the Ukhia police station. They declined to say if charges had been filed against them of if they had appeared in court.
The insurgent group, which is active in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, was established in 2013 under the name Harakah al-Yaqin but was renamed ARSA on Oct. 9, 2016.
ARSA circulated videos and photographs of the sixth anniversary events on Facebook, Twitter and messaging apps including Whatsapp.
A video from Sunday showed dozens of people celebrating “Happy Day” while wearing t-shirts, carrying signs and hanging banners at camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Participants yelled out, “Oct. 9 is what day? Happy Day, Happy Day.”
In another, men clad in matching T-shirts stand at a table with a cake on it while an unseen person proclaims that Oct. 9 is the day ARSA “attacked Burma’s authoritarian rulers and freed the Rohingya people from oppression.”
International Crisis Group, an NGO headquartered in Belgium, identified ARSA’s leader as Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and grew up in Saudi Arabia. His current location is unknown.
In a video posted to Facebook, Ataullah is seen saying: “Oct. 9 is a day of help for the Rohingya community. It is a very important day.”
A camp leader in Ukhia who asked not to be identified over safety concerns said this was a first for ARSA members in Cox’s Bazar.
“Earlier they held meetings secretly, but this time they held meetings publicly and made it public on their social media sites,” the Rohingya leader told BenarNews on Monday.
Faruk said police have increased surveillance since the incident.
Within the camps, Rohingya leaders who want members of the community to be repatriated to Myanmar complained that the celebration could delay such efforts.
Bangladesh and Myanmar officials agreed to a repatriation plan in November 2017, but none of the refugees have been returned to their home country in nearly five years.
Myanmar’s February 2021 coup and intense fighting since then between the Burmese military and anti-junta forces have made repatriation an even more distant possibility.
Myanmar authorities conducted a bloody crackdown on the Rohingya minority beginning on Aug. 25, 2017, after ARSA insurgents attacked a handful of Burmese police posts. The crackdown, since labeled a genocide, caused about 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
Now, in Bangladesh, ARSA is terrorizing the Rohingya population it purports to protect, some say.
“ARSA forces common Rohingya refugees to join their programs. They are issuing threats to kill ordinary refugees if they refuse to join the program,” the Ukhia camp leader said.
He told BenarNews that ARSA frequently threatened him and other pro-repatriation Rohingya leaders, including in a video message issued on Aug. 29.
Security analyst Abdur Rashid, executive director of the Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies in Dhaka, said ARSA staged the celebration to demonstrate its presence.
“To keep visible its presence, ARSA is now holding programs inside the refugee camps,” he told BenarNews.
Asif Munir, an immigration and refugee affairs analyst, called on the government to take action against “Happy Day” participants.
“Though Bangladesh has long denied the presence of ARSA in Rohingya camps, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have information that some of the people in the refugee camps have connections with ARSA,” he told BenarNews.