Bangladesh says Rohingya were involved in attacks on Buddhist temples
Bangladesh says the destruction of Buddhist temples was carried out by radical Islamists
Bangladesh has accused Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar of involvement in attacks on Buddhist temples and homes in the southeast and said the violence was triggered by a photo posted on Facebook that insulted Islam.
Thousands of Muslims went on a rampage in Buddhist areas of Bangladesh near the border on Saturday, setting ablaze more than a dozen temples and monasteries and at least 50 homes. Property was looted, including statues of the Buddha.
"The attacks on temples and houses in Buddhist localities in Ramu and neighbouring areas in Cox's Bazar [district] were perpetrated by radical Islamists," Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said.
"Rohingyas and political opponents of the government were also involved in the attacks."
Sectarian tensions have been running high in neighbouring Myanmar since June when deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Rohingya in western Rakhine state. Mosques and homes were razed, with scores dead on both sides. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya, were displaced.
Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar, while neighbouring Bangladesh has closed its borders to them, refusing to allow those already inside to be assessed for refugee status.
Most of Bangladesh's 400,000 Rohingya live in Cox's Bazar district, where many local Muslims sympathise with their plight.
"Some local Bangladeshi Muslims in Cox's Bazar said that by burning the Buddhist temples and houses in Bangladesh they had sent a strong message to the Buddhists and their government in Burma [Myanmar] that they would not stay quiet if mosques are demolished and Rohingyas are attacked there," said Mohammad Ismail, a Rohingya from Cox's Bazar.
The latest violence began on Saturday when Bangladeshi Muslims in Ramu town discovered a Facebook photo of the Koran being desecrated, apparently posted by a Buddhist man.
A mob searched for the man, torching Buddhist temples and houses when they failed to find him. Mobs also gathered in Patiya, Ukhia and Teknaf towns. "Some thousands of very old Buddhist idols and scriptures of high archaeological value had been destroyed," said Satyapriyo Mahathera, a Buddhist monk.
Cox's Bazar police chief Selim Md Jahangir said at least 35 rioters had been identified and a junior police officer in the port town Teknaf said Rohingyas had taken part in some of the attacks.
"Two monasteries in Ukhia and a dozen houses in Teknaf have been also torched. In Ukhia at least some among the Muslim attackers were Rohingyas. In Teknaf most attackers were Rohingyas," said the officer, who did not want to be identified.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press