By Sharif Khiam
Twelve Christian Rohingya refugees who claim they were attacked by Rohingya militants “due to our faith” are undergoing treatment for injuries in southeastern Bangladesh, one of the alleged victims and a Christian group said Monday.
Bangladeshi police confirmed the violence but denied that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) was involved. Four Christians and one Muslim were wounded in an “ordinary law-and-order incident,” police said.
The clash took place in a community of Christian families living in Kutupalong refugee camp, dubbed the world’s largest after the latest influx of the mainly Muslim Rohingya who fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2017.
“The ARSA early Monday attacked us, the Christians. They looted our houses, and beat up many Christian members. At least 12 Christians have been undergoing treatment at different hospitals and clinics,” Saiful, a Christian, told BenarNews by phone from Kutupalong camp.
Saiful said most of his community converted to Christianity in Myanmar and that he and his family crossed into Bangladesh from Baulibazar in Myanmar’s Maungdaw district in 2007.
“We came under attack due to our faith,” he said of the attack Monday.
“On May 10, 11 and 13 last year, this same group of terrorists attacked us. They want us to leave this camp. They have been attacking us systematically,” he said.
But police in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar where 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.
“It’s not correct that ARSA launched the attack. This is an ordinary law-and-order incident,” Mohammad Abul Mansur, the officer-in-charge of Ukhia police station, told BenarNews.
“Following an altercation, one Rohingya Christian named Saiful on Sunday attacked one Rohingya Muslim named Shukkur. The injured Shukkur was admitted to a hospital,” he said.
Shukkur’s relatives then hit back at Saiful’s family, he said.
“Four relatives of Saiful were injured in the counter-attack,” said Mansur, without clarifying what caused the altercation.
The Rohingya leader of the block of homes where the attack occurred confirmed the police account.
“The Christian members dragged and beat up one Rohingya Muslim, Shukkur, as he was passing by the Christians’ residence. Then the Muslim Rohingya gathered and attacked the Christians,” Amin Majhi told BenarNews.
The ARSA insurgent group, which purports to be fighting oppression of Rohingya Muslims, carried out attacks on police and army posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, triggering the military crackdown that caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee.
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.
Rights activists have accused ARSA of targeting fellow Rohingya with kidnappings, torture and threats. ARSA militants were behind the killing of almost 100 Hindus in Rakhine state in 2017, according to Amnesty International.
BenarNews learned of the incident Monday from a group calling itself the Rohingya Christian Assembly from India.
“Last night … the ARSA attacked the whole Christian community in Kutupalong Camp [located at] 2E Block B1. Approximately 25 Christian families are displaced. It is winter and very cold, the victims have many minor children with them,” the group said in an email.
It said that a mob of “hundreds in many groups” entered every Christian home in the dark of night and destroyed the houses using machetes.
“Twelve of the Rohingya Christians were severely beaten by ARSA, they are injured and now they are admitted to hospital,” the email said.
A local police inspector, Mobarak Hossain, told BenarNews that authorities had yet to capture any of the attackers.
“When informed, we rushed to the spot and saw some Christian houses damaged,” Hossain said.
“The attackers fled the scene as we reached the place of occurrence,” he said.
In comments that appeared to confirm the existence of religious tensions, he said that the “bone of contention” between the two groups was that the Muslims viewed the Christians as being “Muslims who follow Christian rituals.”
“But the Christians assert that they are genuinely Christian,” Hossain said.
The Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist Christian Unity Council, an organization that advocates for religious minorities in the South Asian country, said it would investigate the incident.
“We have come to know that ARSA repeatedly intimidated the Hindu Rohingya refugees. So, it’s logical to assume that ARSA can attack Christians,” said Rana Dasgupta, the association’s secretary-general.
Following the clash early Monday, some 444 Rohingya Hindu families housed at another settlement in Ukhia were placed under police protection, and some 25 Rohingya Christian families were also isolated from their Muslim neighbors, authorities said.
Sunil Barua in Dhaka and Abdur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to this story.