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Bangladesh police: 2 Rohingya leaders were victims of ‘target killings’

Unidentified assailants fatally shot two Rohingya leaders as they returned home after overseeing community night-watch duties at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, police said Wednesday.

The shooting inside the Kutupalong mega-camp in the Ukiah sub-district on Tuesday evening was the latest in a string of killings, as fears grow among Rohingya refugees about crime and deteriorating public safety in crowded camps along Bangaldesh’s border with Myanmar. 

Abu Taleb, 40, and Syed Hossain, 35, were the victims of “target killings” by a criminal gang in Tuesday’s attack, said Kamran Hossain, an additional superintendent of the Armed Police Battalion that is responsible for security in the camps, which are home to about 1 million Rohingya refugees.

Taleb was leader of a block in camp-15 while Hossain led a sub-block at the Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhia, he said. Both camps lie within the confines of Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp.

“At around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, Abu Taleb and Syed Hossain went to a hill of Jamtoli camp to make cell phone calls after distributing the night surveillance duties among Rohingya volunteers. Then eight to 10 assailants shot them and fled the scene through another hill,” Hossain told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service, on Wednesday.

“Both the slain Rohingya leaders had been active in curbing criminal activities at the camp. They used to cooperate with the police to arrest the camp-based criminals, so we are sure that they were the victims of target killings,” he said.

The killings occurred a day after assailants killed Md. Ibrahim, 30, in the Nayapara refugee camp in Teknaf, another sub-district of Cox’s Bazar. Since mid-June, nine Rohingya men, including two suspected members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group, were killed at the camps, according to the Bangladeshi authorities.

“We have information that there is tension among different groups over the selection of camp leaders. We are examining all available clues,” Hossain said. “Most of the killings at the refugee camps are targeted – that are very hard to stop.”

Mohammad Ali, the officer-in-charge of the Ukhia police station, told BenarNews that the bodies were sent to a Cox’s Bazar hospital for autopsies, and police were preparing to file murder charges once suspects were identified.

The law enforcers said the rival groups have been attacking each other over control of the camps, where the trade in illegal weapons and drugs, along with human trafficking, are rampant.

ARSA, based in Myanmar’s Rakhine state where Rohingya began a mass exodus to the Cox’s Bazar camps in August 2017, has been killing their rivals, law enforcers said.

Members of the militant group have also been blamed for the Sept. 29, 2021, killing of Muhib Ullah, who had gained international fame and visited the White House in Washington on behalf of his fellow refugees.

Until that time, authorities had denied the presence of ARSA in Bangladesh, but an investigation showed that ARSA members killed Ullah because of his popularity.

Refugees feel unsafe

In the wake of the recent spate of killings, camp residents said they worried about their safety.

“We, the ordinary people, want peace at the camps. Many of the camp leaders help the police arrest the criminals and ARSA members,” Md. Kamal Hossain, a leader at the Balukhali camp, told BenarNews.

“After coming out of the jail on bail, criminals identify informants and kill them in a premeditated way,” he said. “Therefore, ordinary Rohingya people do not dare to give tips about the criminals.”

Hossain said the night surveillance by police and volunteers had led to a drop in criminal activities in the camps.

“Very often the ARSA members threaten the camp leaders over phones so we immediately inform police about the threats,” Hossain said. “Though the police have been helping us, we are really worried.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.