Bangladesh on Alert as Rohingya Blamed for Unrest

By Julhas Alam 2 October 2012

MERUNGLUA, Bangladesh—Authorities in Bangladesh have ordered security officials to remain alert around official camps of Rohingya Muslims following weekend attacks on minority Buddhists and their temples in the area.

Some 28,000 Rohingya who fled sectarian violence in western Burma to live in two official camps in the southern Cox’s Bazar district, but tens of thousands of others are scattered in the region.

Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said he ordered security officials to stay vigilant. There’s no clear evidence that Rohingya Muslims were involved in the attacks on Buddhists, but concerns have been raised about possible links to the violence that took place between late Saturday and early Sunday.

Bangladesh’s largest-circulated Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily reported that a section of intelligence officials think radical Rohingya Muslims might have a role behind the attacks. The newspaper did not name any specific individual sources.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is blaming Islamic radicals and activists in the political opposition.

“In primary investigations, we have found that organized radical Islamic groups attacked the houses and places of worship,” Alamgir told reporters after a visit to the scene on Sunday. “Activists of the opposition parties were also among the attacks.”

Alamgir accused local opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party lawmaker Lutfar Rahman Kajal of instigating the attack, a charge denied by the opposition legislator.

The party’s leader and Hasina’s chief rival, Khaleda Zia, said in a statement on Monday that the government was failing to protect minority Buddhists and that she feared the government may use the violence as an excuse to crack down on the opposition.

“There may be a well-planned ill motive behind the incidents,” she said.

About 1,000 Buddhists families fled their villages after rioters burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes and looted shops in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Quran. The Facebook user was quoted in local media as saying someone else mistakenly tagged the photo to his profile. Authorities are investigating.

Buddhists continued to return home on Tuesday amid heightened security. No new violence has been reported.

Buddhists make up less than one percent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, but followers of the two religions usually coexist peacefully. Some of the Buddhist families displaced by the attacks took shelter at the homes of Muslim neighbors, and on Monday, many Muslim families offered food to the victims.

In the 1990s, about 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in the face of alleged persecution by the military junta in Burma.

Later, Burma took back most of them, leaving some 28,000 in two camps run by the government and the United Nations.

Bangladesh has been unsuccessfully negotiating with Myanmar for years to send them back and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of others have entered Bangladesh illegally in recent years.

Only about 300,000 Bangladeshis, or about 0.2 percent of the country’s 150 million people, are Facebook users.