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March 2, 2024
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Bangladesh investigators probe cause of fire that left 12,000 Rohingya homeless

Bangladesh inspectors are investigating the cause of a massive fire at a Cox’s Bazar camp that destroyed about 2,000 makeshift homes and left 12,000 homeless over the weekend, an official said Monday.

Lt. Col. Mohammad Tajul Chowdhury, who oversees fire service and civil defense in the region, said an investigative committee has been formed to look into the Balukhali camp fire, which also destroyed health, learning and relief centers, according to officials.

“The Rohingya camp issue is a very sensitive issue. There could be many reasons for the fire including gas leakage or sabotage, but we are not sure about it,” Chowdhury told BenarNews. “I can only tell you the cause of the fire when the investigation is over in the next several days.”

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that the government is investigating to determine if the fire camp was caused by arson, pointing to potential cases of sabotage at the 32 Rohingya camps in and around Cox’s Bazar.

The camps in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district bordering Myanmar, house about 1 million of that country’s persecuted Rohingya minority, including about 740,000 who fled following a military crackdown in the Rakhine state since August 2017.

Sunday’s fire came nearly two years after a March 22, 2021, blaze at the Balukhali camp killed at least 13 Rohingya, including six children, destroyed 10,000 houses and left 45,000 homeless.

In February, a defense ministry document claimed at least 222 fires broke out in the Rohingya camps in 2021 and 2022. The document obtained by BenarNews alleged 60 fires were caused by “sabotage,” while the reasons for 63 others were unknown.

The defense ministry document blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and nine other groups for the incidents of “sabotage.”

The Feb. 15 document said ARSA had been active in Ukhia, Balukhali, Palongkhali and Hwaikong camps while RSO was concentrated in Ukhia and Palongkhali.

ARSA, RSO and a third group, Islamic Mahaz are faith-based groups while the others were identified as criminal gangs, according to the document. Islamic Mahaz was concentrated in Hwaikong.

Alam, a Rohingya leader in Ukhia who asked to be identified by one name for security reasons, blamed ARSA for Sunday’s fire.

“They carried out the attack to take revenge on the RSO,” he told BenarNews.

Retired Maj. Gen. Abdur Rashid, a security analyst, echoed Alam’s statement that the fire could have been the result of a rivalry between the groups seeking to control territories in the camps.

Coxs Pic-02.jpg
A family huddles under a makeshift shelter after a weekend fire gutted about 2,000 Rohingya homes in the Balukhali camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 6, 2023. [Sunil Barua/BenarNews]

 “Sometimes, RSO carries out arson attacks at the ARSA-dominated camps. In response, ARSA carries out counter attacks,” he told BenarNews. “The rivalry makes such attacks common and innocent Rohingya suffer.”

“What I think is the number of sabotages would be higher than the official figure. In most of the cases, the arsonists are not punished,” Rashid said. “We may see more such fire incidents at the camps in future.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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