Banned Myanmarese insurgent group Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) has gradually placed their key figures in the ruling Awami League’s Naikkhyangchhari unit in bordering Bandarban.
Their dominance has risen so high that the different units of the Awami League (AL) including Chhatra League, Jubo League, Sechchasebak League and Krishak League are led by the Rohingyas, who are allegedly involved in anti-state activities, locals and a number of AL leaders told the Dhaka Tribune.
The RSO, which reportedly has ties with banned militant group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and key BNP-ally Jamaat-e-Islami, recently increased its activities by targeting poor Rohingyas in the remote hilly areas and tactfully providing them with food, shelter and training. Afghan instructors were also reported to have been seen at the RSO camps.
According to credible sources, the RSO started regrouping in June 2012 after sectarian violence erupted in Myanmar’s Arakan province where the Muslim Rohingya communities have been persecuted in the Buddhist-majority country.
On June 8 the same year, the group declared Arakan as an independent Islamic state during Friday sermons at Kowarbeel Madrasa in Mongdu of Myanmar. Later they beefed up activities in bordering Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts to lure the Rohingyas, staying illegally in Bangladesh, to join the outfit.
It is alleged that RSO leaders, among others, were behind the attacks on Buddhist localities and temples in Ramu in September 2012. The mastermind of the attacks, Naikkhyangchhari Upazila Chairman Tofail Ahmed, also a Jamaat leader, has allegedly been under the shelter of the RSO after the attacks, police said.
RSO operatives engaged in fierce battles with the Myanmarese Lutin Force (riot police) in September last year and May this year in Naikkhyangchhari.
The Rohingya insurgent group reportedly has training camps in the district’s remote areas where many JMB leaders took training. According to the police, the JMB has bought land in Bandarban to set up shelters and train militants.
Locals say RSO operatives have became populous in the district which has accommodated many Rohingyas since the birth of Bangladesh. At that time, the Rohingyas took shelter in the district with the help of Bangalee Muslims, and now they have become top leaders of different political parties including the ruling Awami League.
Sources in Bandarban AL say Naikkhyangchhari union parishad Chairman Abu Syed, upazila unit Krishak League President Mostafa Kamal Lalu and its General Secretary Md Iqbal – all Rohingyas – were trained by the RSO.
Iqbal, now a fugitive, is a criminal listed by the Home Ministry who was arrested twice in Dhaka and Chittagong with huge quantities of contraband yaba tablets.
Among the other top Rohingya leaders, now leaders of the ruling party, are upazila unit Chhatra League General Secretary Badarullah, upazila unit Sechchasebak League General Secretary Shahnewaz Shanu and its union unit General Secretary Abdur Rahim Monsur, and upazila unit Awami League President Habibullah and Joint General Secretary Abu Taher Bahadur.
When contacted, Mostafa outright rejected any link with the RSO. “Such allegations are raised only to malign our [Rohingyas involved with AL] image.”
RSO’s Shafiullah: Shibir turns AL
Law enforcers on Sunday arrested five people including two top RSO leaders – Salamatullah and Shafiullah – at a hotel in Chittagong city for their alleged involvement in militant activities.
Salamatullah is a Jamaat leader who is locally known as a chief organiser of the RSO in Cox’s Bazar, police said, adding that the detainees were distributing money received from two Saudi financiers. He was also involved in the Ramu attacks.
Previously a leader of Jamaat’s student body Islami Chhatra Shibir, Shafi, is now a leader of the AL’s upazila unit. His father Saleh Ahmed was the founding president of RSO in Naikkhyangchhari upazila.
Shafi contested in the union parishad election in 2001 as a Rohingya. At that time, he led the NGO affairs unit of the RSO.
He joined the Awami League in 2010 backed by Bandarban district unit General Secretary Kazi Mujibur Rahman. He became the member secretary of the upazila unit’s convening committee the following year.
In 2012, Shafi was nominated as the human resources affairs secretary of the upazila unit. He lost the upazila election the same year to Jamaat leader Tofail.
Naikkhyangchhari upazila unit AL’s Senior Vice-President Abu Taher said: “We know since childhood that they are involved with the RSO. And now they lead the outfit.”
Seeking anonymity, another senior leader of the unit said Shafi presented a district unit leader a car as bribe to strengthen his position in the party.
During Eid-ul-Azha this year, Shafi distributed 200 cows among the Rohingyas living in different upazilas of Bandarban from funds he had received from Turkish sources, sources said.
Regarding the involvement of AL leaders with the RSO, former convener of the AL Naikkhyangchhari upazila unit, Khairul Bashar said: “These people are dangerous for the party, the country’s independence and sovereignty.”
Kazi Mozibur Rahman, AL’s district unit general secretary, said he was unaware of the matter that Awami League leaders had RSO connections. “If we get any specific allegation against anyone, we will expel them from the party.”
The Naikkhyangchhari unit Awami League on Friday formed a human chain in the area demanding Shafi’s immediate release.