Bangladesh put on alert after attacks on Buddhists - The New Indian Express

Bangladesh put on alert after attacks on Buddhists

Published: 02nd October 2012 11:55 AM

Last Updated: 02nd October 2012 11:56 AM

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 Myanmar 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 daily did not name any intelligence officials.

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 Monday 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 Tuesday amid heightened security and more than 160 arrests. No new violence has been reported.

"They are coming back. We are giving them protection," said Lt. Col. Jaed Hossain, a military commander speaking at Merunglua village in the coastal district of Cox's Bazar. He was helping install tents for the displaced.

Many in the impoverished village lost everything.

"I was in my shop. They suddenly came and set my shop on fire," grocery owner Prodip Barua told The Associated Press. "I started running and took my two children and wife from my home and fled the area."

He knew his shop had been burned to ashes, but when he returned Monday he was shocked to see that his home was also destroyed. "How will I survive now? How will I send my children to schools?" he sobbed. "I have lost everything."

The government has pledged to rebuild the victims' homes.

Buddhists make up less than 1 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 Myanmar.

Later, Myanmar 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.

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