A turf war between criminal armed groups in Rohingya camps in southern Bangladesh has killed at least eight people and forced thousands to flee following clashes in recent days, police and humanitarian workers said.
Authorities on Thursday said they have arrested 12 people after days of gunfire, arson, and abductions by gangs competing for dominance in the sprawling camps, the world’s largest refugee settlement.
The camps in Bangladesh host a million mainly-Muslim Rohingya since 2017 when a sweeping military crackdown forced more than 730,000 of them to flee their homes in Myanmar.
“A tense situation is prevailing there,” Rafiqul Islam, an additional police superintendent based in the nearest town of Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters news agency by telephone.
“Two groups are trying to establish dominance in the area,” he said, adding that they were suspected drug and human traffickers.
The region is notorious for a lucrative trade in methamphetamine, commonly used as a recreational drug which is manufactured across the border in Myanmar.
More than 100 Rohingya have been killed since 2018 in incidents human rights groups say are extrajudicial killings. But police say the victims were caught in the “crossfire” during shoot-outs with suspected drug smugglers.
Three refugees speaking on condition of anonymity named the two groups behind the fighting as the “Munna” gang, named after a notorious local alleged drug baron, and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group that has a presence in the sprawling camps.
Many Rohingya refugees have accused ARSA of carrying out kidnappings and attacks.
In a Twitter post, the group denied responsibility for the latest violence and blamed criminals seeking to cast aspersions on it.
About 2,000 Rohingya families were displaced in the latest violence, though some had returned by Thursday, according to additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Shamsu Douza.
“We are living in fear, especially at night,” one of the refugees told Reuters by phone. “Last night also, one group carried out an arson attack. Where will we go now?”