Thousands of tribal people flee southern Bangladesh as their homes are torched
by Sumon Corraya

Bengali Muslims carry out arson attack in Rangamati district blaming tribals for killing a Muslim activist. The police arrest three people. Homes and shops were sacked before being set on fire. Reports of more arson attacks in other Adivasi villages.

Rangamati (AsiaNews) – Thousands of tribal people, mostly Buddhist, fled their homes after they were torched by angry Muslim mobs following the death of Nurul Islam Noyon, a local Jubo League leader. The Jubo League is the youth organisation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League.

It is still unclear how Noyon died, but his body was found near the Khagrachhari Sadar-Dighinala Road. Bengali settlers living in the area blamed his death on indigenous people, who reject the accusation.

"The attack is an act of sectarian violence against tribal people,” indigenous groups say. “They attack us because we are weak." Various advocacy groups, like AIN or Salish Kendra, slammed the attack, calling on the authorities to arrest and punish the perpetrators.

The fire destroyed about 80 buildings, both residential and commercial, in Langadu, Rangamati district (south-eastern Bangladesh). However, people who fled the area say that at least 300 buildings were destroyed.

The victims report that Gunamala Chakma, a 75-year-old tribal, died trapped by the flames caused by the attack from ethnic Bengalis. Church authorities have reported that no Catholic is among the refugees.

Tensions began rising on 1st June when the Jubo League leader’s body was found. Muslims gathered to lament his death, but right after his funeral, they staged a street protest marching to headquarters of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (United People's Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts), which represents indigenous tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

During the attack, the mob set fire to the house of the party chairman, as well as its regional office, which also served as a community centre. The victims complain that before they set fire, the attackers sacked the buildings.

For their part, the authorities announce that the arrest of three people, named Sabuj, Khayer, and Mamun. Rangamati district administration invoked Section 144 of the Bangladesh Penal Code to calm the situation. But reports of further attacks came from other remote Adivasi-dominated villages.