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Bangladesh’s interior minister said a Rohingya Muslim man the country’s police arrested late last year, for suspected links with an insurgent group that attacked Burmese security forces, has been bailed and is living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
The presence of suspected insurgents in the camps just across their shared border could further strain relations between the two countries, already at loggerheads over the issue of repatriating around 430,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh after fleeing Buddhist-majority Burma.
Manzurul Islam, a 38-year-old Islamic preacher, denied any links to the insurgency in northwestern Burma when he spoke to Reuters by telephone from a camp in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.
Two police sources, citing intelligence reports, had said Islam was a member of the Harakah al-Yaqin insurgent group that ambushed Burmese police border posts in the country’s northwest on 9 October, killing nine officers.
“Since his entrance his movement was suspicious, so members of our security forces and law enforcement agencies monitored him closely,” Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, when asked about that information.
“They also recorded his phone conversations secretly that showed he had some connections with illegal activities.”
Khan declined to give further details about Islam, who is on bail after spending three months in custody in Cox’s Bazar town.
Bangladeshi officials have previously said no foreign militant organisation was active in the country and that it does not tolerate such activities. Khan reiterated that Bangladesh would not allow its territory to be used by any militants.
Burma’s armed forces launched a fierce counterinsurgency operation in response to the October attacks, during which more than 75,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. Harakah al-Yaqin says it is fighting for the rights of 1.1 million Rohingya who live in apartheid-like conditions in Burma.
Islam was arrested from a market near the Kutupalong makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar on 23 November, according to a police document seen by Reuters.
Police believe he had trained some 30 refugees deep in the jungles near the camp for around two weeks before his arrest, said one of the police sources, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
“They had no sophisticated weapons but only one or two country-made guns,” said the source. “Security forces went to the training place and found one spot where there were signs that something had happened there: trampled grass, tree branches cleared out, portions of the hill flattened.”
Burma’s police did not respond to a request for comment. But a Burmese security source said they were aware of Islam’s presence in Bangladesh.
“Our department received information from the Bangladesh side and we are aware that the man is facing trial,” said the source. “We’re not going to accept transfer from Bangladesh … it’s not going to happen.”
Islam said Bangladeshi security officials interrogated him for 10 days after his arrest, which he blamed on false information given to the authorities by unidentified enemies.
“They accused me of being involved in the insurgency in Myanmar [Burma]. I told them I had no connection with any group,” he said from Kutupalong, around 400 km (250 miles) southeast of Dhaka, where he lives with his wife and five children.
“Nevertheless, they warned me not to get involved in anything wrong and then put me in jail for illegally entering Bangladesh.”
Islam, originally from Taung Pyo village just across the border in Burma, was charged with entering Bangladesh without proper papers and released on bail on 15 February, court documents show.
Minister Khan said there was insufficient evidence to charge him with further offences in Bangladesh.
Thousands of Rohingya live in Bangladesh without being officially recognised as refugees, but police rarely file immigration charges against them. Still, their presence is a source of tension between the two countries.
“We’ve been continuing our dialogue with the Myanmar government, not only for Islam but for all the illegal entrants, as they are a major problem for us,” Khan said. “They are a burden which we can’t afford.”