Bangladesh vows to protect Buddhists after attacks
Hundreds of Buddhists who fled their southern Bangladesh villages in the wake of attacks by Muslims started returning home on Monday amid heightened security.
They had moved to safety after an overnight weekend attack in which thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Koran.
Army soldiers, paramilitary border guards and police were deployed, and the government has banned all public gatherings in the troubled areas near the southern border with Myanmar, said Lieutenant Colonel Jaed Hossain, a military commander who was helping to install tents for displaced Buddhists.
“They are coming back. We are giving them protection,” Hossain said at Merunglua village in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar on Monday.
He said about 1,000 Buddhist families fled their homes after the attacks were launched late Saturday. As the unrest continued through early Sunday, many Buddhist-owned homes and shops were looted. Nojibul Islam, a Cox’s Bazar police chief, said at least 20 people were injured.
Many in the impoverished neighbourhood of Merunglua lost everything.
“I was in my shop. They suddenly came and set my shop on fire,” grocery owner Prodip Barua told reporters. “I started running and took my two children and wife from my home and fled the area.”
He knew his shop had been burned to ashes, but when he returned on Monday he was shocked to see that his home was also destroyed.
“How will I survive now? How will I send my children to schools?” he sobbed. “I have lost everything.”
The government has pledged to rebuild the victims’ homes.
Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said after visiting the area that the affected people would get security and support from the government.
The attacks began after a photo of a burned copy of the Muslim holy book was posted on Facebook. The rioters blamed the photo on a 25-year-old local Buddhist, though it was not immediately clear if he actually posted the photo.
Only about 300,000 Bangladeshis, or about 0.2 per cent of the country’s 150 million people, are Facebook users.
Bangladesh’s English-language Daily Star newspaper quoted the man blamed for the photos as saying that someone else mistakenly tagged it on his Facebook profile. The newspaper reported that soon after the violence started, the man’s Facebook account was closed and police escorted him and his mother to safety.
Joinul Bari, chief government administrator in Cox’s Bazar, said authorities detained the man’s parents and were investigating.
Buddhists make up less than one per cent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, but followers of the two religions usually coexist peacefully. Some of the Buddhist families displaced by the attacks took shelter at the homes of Muslim neighbours, and on Monday, many Muslim families offered food to the victims.
The Bangladeshi violence follows protests that erupted in Muslim countries over the past month after a low-budget film produced by a US citizen denigrated the Prophet Mohammad by portraying Islam’s holiest figure as a fraud, womaniser and child molester.
Some two dozen demonstrators have been killed in protests that attacked symbols of US and the West, including diplomatic compounds