A United Nations envoy says he has “credible” information about Rohingya militants being involved in kidnapping, abusing and even killing fellow Rohingya at refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants gunned down Md. Muhib Ullah, a prominent Rohingya activist, at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district in late September, Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told reporters at the end of a six-day visit to Bangladesh.
“I visited his [Muhib’s] office and stood in the very spot where he was murdered. His murder was believed to be at the hands of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA,” Andrews told reporters on Sunday.
“I have received credible reports that members of ARSA have killed, tortured, abducted, and threatened Rohingya refugees.”
Members of ARSA, an insurgent group active in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, say they want to defend the Rohingya Muslims from the Burmese government, which for decades has violated the stateless minority group’s human rights.
In 2016, a rag-tag bunch of ARSA members attacked police posts in Rakhine, an act that ignited a brutal military offensive, which led to nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fleeing across the border into Cox’s Bazar.
In the past two years, reports have persisted that ARSA operates in the sprawling refugee camps, but Bangladesh always has – and continues to – deny this.
“He [Tom Andrews] talked about ARSA, but we did not see any presence of ARSA here,” Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters on Sunday.
“If he identified any ARSA member and shared the information with us, we will send them to their country. We want to see the ARSA people.”
Khin Maung, founder of the Rohingya Youth Association, believes Andrews’ claim.
“The U.N. representative’s statement about ARSA’s presence in Rohingya camps is true. We have been talking about the presence of ARSA in Rohingya camps for a long time,” he told BenarNews.
“The government should continue drives against ARSA activities. ARSA was involved in the killing of Muhib Ullah.”
A retired Bangladeshi air commodore and security expert, meanwhile, said he believed that ARSA members were active in Cox’s Bazar, but added the onus is on the U.N. to solve the Rohingya crisis.
“If the U.N. expresses concern over the presence of ARSA in Rohingya camps, they should take necessary steps to solve the Rohingya issue immediately,” Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
‘Rohingya have rights as refugees’
Andrews also urged Bangladesh to grant freedom of movement to the refugees, but the foreign minister said that wouldn’t happen.
The U.N. rapporteur said that a barbed-wire fence around the Rohingya camps was not keeping their residents safe.
“I was informed by officials that the fence was constructed to protect Rohingya from criminal activities from outside. But I also heard concerns that that the fence was not only ineffective in achieving its purpose, it also makes residents more vulnerable to dangers such as fires,” he said.
“Many Rohingya spoke to me about the substantial insecurity nighttime brings to the camps. Women in particular are at risk of sexual and gender based violence.”
On Monday, a human rights organization said Bangladesh must end restrictions on Rohingya refugees.
“The Rohingya have rights as refugees, and it’s in the interest of Bangladesh to better protect those rights, including the right to freedom of movement,” Ismail Wolff, regional director at Fortify Rights, said in a statement.
“Rohingya give thanks to Bangladesh but continue to face restrictions and violations of their basic rights and struggle to live with dignity.”
Foreign Minister Momen said the government would not allow such freedoms.
“We won’t agree to allow free mobility of the Rohingya people as they took shelter here [only] for the short term,” Momen said.
Another human rights watchdog as well as U.N. rapporteur Andrews said they worried about education for the 400,000 Rohingya children who live in the camps.
Human Rights Watch said Bangladesh’s government had decided to close thousands of home-based and community-led schools for Rohingya refugee students, while Andrews said the plan was to shut down only private schools in the camps.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, an additional commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation, confirmed to BenarNews that only private schools were being shut down.
“All educational institutions except for private learning centers in Rohingya camps are open. We shut the private learning centers because they were operating illegally,” Douza said.
According to Momen, the foreign minister, these private centers were promoting radicalism in the camps and following the Myanmar curriculum that the legal centers follow.
“Therefore, the government has asked to stop those unauthorized activities,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
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