Monday, June 17th 2024

Illegal heavy weapons entering Bangladesh from Myanmar



Abdur Rahman/ Dhaka Tribune/ May 21, 2024

 

Illegal heavy weapons are entering Bangladesh through the Myanmar border, falling into the hands of separatist groups based in the Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf.

 

In a significant operation, law enforcement forces recently seized a large cache of firearms, including military-grade weapons, from these camps. 

 

According to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a raid was conducted on a hideout of Myanmar's armed group, the Arakan Salvation Army (Arsa), in the remote Lal Pahar area of Ukhiya last Wednesday. 

 

During the operation, a substantial amount of ammunition, grenades, and various weapons were recovered from Arsa's hideout. 

 

The raid resulted in a gunfight between Arsa men and RAB, leading to the arrest of Arsa's Bangladesh commander, Master Salimullah, 38, and his associate Md Riaz, 27. 

 

The recovered items included five grenades, three rifle grenades, ten country-made hand grenades, thirteen cocktails, one foreign revolver, one LG, and a large quantity of ammunition and cartridges.

 

Police raids and arrests

 

On Thursday, police conducted a raid based on a tip-off regarding arms dealers conspiring to smuggle firearms from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

 

The raid took place at the house of a notorious robber, Mostak, in the remote hills of Ukhiya's Motherbunia area. 

 

Mostak, along with Ravi Alam, Kashem, and Mostak's wife, were arrested. The raid yielded two LGs, 77 rounds of bullets, and 24 bullet shells.

 

Another associate, Belal, was arrested while fleeing from Teknaf. Based on Belal's information, a foreign G3 rifle, a magazine, and 15 rounds were recovered from the coastal area in Teknaf.

 

The arrested individuals are identified as organized arms dealers, involved in smuggling heavy weapons from Myanmar to Rohingya camp-based miscreants.

 

These weapons include sophisticated arms such as German-made G3 rifles and rocket cells. Most of the seized weapons are foreign-made.

 

The presence of heavy weapons in the hands of separatist groups within the Rohingya camps is a significant security concern.

 

Cox’s Bazar Superintendent of Police Md Mahfuzul Islam said the accused are involved in multiple robbery, weapons, and drug cases, with several arrest warrants issued against them. 

 

Two cases have been filed under the Arms Act in Ukhiya and Teknaf police stations, and the accused have been sent to court with a remand application.

 

He said: "There are several separatist organizations based in Rohingya camps. Basically, they are bringing weapons and ammunition from Myanmar to Bangladesh illegally to assert their dominance in the camps. As a result, there are some murders taking place.”

 

Law enforcement agencies have intensified intelligence operations to prevent these activities, Mahfuzul added.

 

Strengthened border surveillance

 

In the early hours of April 28, APBn arrested five Rohingyas with local and foreign weapons and ammunition in the Kutupalong 2-West Rohingya Camp of Ukhiya Upazila. 

 

Additional Deputy Inspector General Mohammad Iqbal, commander of the 14-Armed Police Battalion (APBn), confirmed that most of the arrested individuals are active members of Arsa, involved in crimes such as kidnapping for ransom and murder to control the camps.

 

Lt Col HM Sajjad Hossain, commander of RAB-15, said the law enforcers recovered military-grade weapons, including Argus and rifle grenades, typically used by armies during wars. 

 

Surveillance has been increased to prevent further infiltration of these weapons through the border, he added. 

 

Master Salim, the arrested head of Arsa in Bangladesh, was involved in creating unstable situation in the Rohingya camps by procuring weapons from Myanmar.

 

“Salim came to Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2017 and started living in the Balukhali refugee camp. He also served as the bodyguard for Chief Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi. With Arsa becoming leaderless in Bangladesh recently, he was appointed as the chief coordinator of Arsa. He is implicated in multiple cases, including three murders. His accomplice Riaz also faces a murder charge,” the RAB captain said.

 

The APBn reported that 47 firearms, including hand grenades, have been recovered from Rohingya camps in the first five months of this year. 

 

In connection with these recoveries, 42 people have been arrested in 35 cases. In May alone, 17 murders occurred in the camps, including four anti-Arsa Rohingya leaders.

 

Additional DIG Mohammad Amir Zafar, commander of APBn-8, said: "We have strengthened patrolling of the camp after recovering heavy weapons. We are continuing operations to ensure that no arms or miscreants can enter the camp across the border. The camps are under surveillance."

 

Local residents have questioned how so many heavy weapons are entering the country despite strict border surveillance. 

 

Wishing to remain anonymous, an officer from the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) said: "A strong network of international smuggling rings is behind the illegal shipment of heavy weapons into the country. They are the ones crossing the border with arms consignments. This network could involve someone in charge of border security, making it difficult, if not impossible, to break."

 

However, to prevent the smuggling of arms, law enforcement agencies, particularly the BGB, have strengthened intelligence surveillance on the border, according to District Police Superintendent Mahfuzul Islam.

 

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