Bangladesh sends back 90 Rohingya despite violence

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (UPDATED) – Bangladesh has detained and forcibly returned 90 Rohingya migrants to Myanmar, police said Sunday, August 27, just hours after Myanmarese troops on the other side of the border had opened fire on people fleeing the country.

Police intercepted a group of 70 Rohingya late Saturday, August 26, after they crossed the "zero line" border zone, where Myanmar soldiers earlier fired mortars and machine guns at villagers making the dangerous dash from the northern state of Rakhine into Bangladesh. 

The villagers were caught roughly 4 kilometers inside Bangladeshi territory en route to a refugee camp in Kutupalong, where thousands of Rohingya already live in squalid conditions, said local police chief Abul Khaer.

Police said some of those detained had entered Bangladesh via the Ghumdhum border area – where the Myanmar forces unleashed the barrage of fire just hours earlier.

"They were pleading with us not to send them back to Myanmar," said one policeman on condition of anonymity.

Another 20 Rohingya were caught Sunday and sent back after crossing the Naf river, a natural border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Ariful Islam, a commander with Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

Border officer Manzurul Hassan Khan said Sunday that fresh gunfire could be heard across the border in Rakhine, a hotbed of religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.

More than 100 people have died since Friday, August 25, as scores of men purportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) ambushed Myanmar police posts with knives, guns, and homemade explosives, killing at least a dozen security force members.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled towards Bangladesh, but authorities there have refused to let most of them in, with an untold number of people – mainly women and children – stranded along the border zone.

Several hundred Rohingya were permitted Sunday to cross a short way into Bangladeshi territory, where they were kept under close guard in an open field. 

Officials in Cox's Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar that is home to several large refugee camps, have been instructed not to allow any "illegal entry" by Rohingya, Abdur Rahman, a senior government official, told Agence France-Presse.

But Rohingya community leaders, local media and an Agence France-Presse correspondent said at least 3,000 Rohingya refugees have managed to enter the country and found refuge in camps and villages since Friday.

The impoverished country already hosts some 400,000 Rohingya refugees.

'Merciless' violence

At least 100 mainly women and children arrived Sunday at a makeshift camp in Balukhali, according to an Agence France-Presse correspondent at the scene, many bringing tales of horror from over the border. 

"They fired so close that I cannot hear anything now," 70-year-old Mohammad Zafar said of armed Buddhists who shot dead his two sons in a field. 

"They came with rods and sticks to drive us to the border yelling, 'Bengali bastards,'" Zafar told Agence France-Presse.

Rahima Khatun said she spent the night hiding in the hills after Buddhists in her village torched Rohingya homes and set upon men with machetes and clubs.

"We grew up with them. I can’t figure out how they could be so merciless," she told Agence France-Presse.

Others reported being sent across the border by their husbands and brothers, who stayed back to fight the army and Buddhist militias.

ARSA, a new Rohingya militant group, attacked a string of Myanmar border posts in October, sparking a military crackdown that left scores dead and forced 87,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.

Civilians in northern Rakhine have since been trapped between security forces and the militants – who are accused of conducting a shadowy assassination campaign against perceived collaborators with the state.

In Rakhine, the bullet-riddled bodies of 6 members of a Hindu family – including 3 children and a woman – were discovered Sunday and brought to a hospital in the main northern town Maungdaw.

The victims had allegedly been shot dead by Rohingya militants on Saturday evening as they tried to flee to Maungdaw, a relative who lived in the town told Agence France-Presse.

On Sunday, the office of Aung San Suu Kyi issued a statement saying authorities were investigating whether any international NGO staff had "participated" in the latest round of militant attacks.

The statement, published on the Facebook page of the State Counselor Office, offered no evidence for the claim beyond a photo of some World Food Programme biscuits that had allegedly been found on July 30th in a deserted militant training camp.

Suu Kyi's government has hit out at some international agencies since the fighting began last year in Rakhine.

Rohingya are reviled and spurned as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they live in fear of police and troops.

"They arrest and beat whoever they see along the way," a man, who gave his first name as Anawar, told Agence France-Presse on Sunday morning by phone.

"Not everyone is terrorist," he added. "We want a peaceful and calm society." – Rappler.com