Clashes, arson attacks amid festivities at Dhaka refugee camp kill nine

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 6:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 6:01am


Clashes and arson attacks at a refugee camp in Dhaka killed at least nine people during festival celebrations yesterday.

The shanty town in Mirpur, a northern suburb of the Bangladeshi capital, is home to a community of Bihari Muslims, and authorities said tensions there had been rising.

Emergency services put the death toll at nine - eight in the camp and another who was brought to a hospital in central Dhaka. The exact trigger for the incident was unclear.

"We can confirm the death toll of eight people [in the camp]. All are Biharis," fire service director Mahabubur Rahman said.

Half a million Muslims of Indian origin have lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh since the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Although not all came from India's Bihar state, they are referred to as "Biharis".

Anti-Bihari feelings run deep among Bangladesh's majority Bengalis, as the migrants supported Pakistan in the war.

Most of the victims at the camp burned to death after their homes were torched in the clashes, Rahman said. A photographer in the camp said he counted nine bodies there, all of them with burn injuries.

Several people were injured after police fired shotgun pellets at the rioters, Rahman added.

"The situation is now largely under control. But we could not recover the bodies from the camp," he said.

One Bihari resident was taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where he was declared dead from gun injuries, police inspector Mozammel Hoque said. "Five other people were also brought to the hospital with shotgun and burn injuries," he said.

Mirpur police assistant commissioner Kamal Hossain said yesterday's clashes were triggered by firecracker explosions marking the Islamic festival of Shab-e-Barat.

"Tension has been building in the area for some time. Early this morning, clashes erupted between Bengalis and Biharis and also Biharis versus Biharis," he said.

Residents said homes in the camp were torched by local Bengali Muslims. "Some 500 Bengalis armed with machetes, cleavers and hockey sticks attacked our camp in the early hours," Mohammad Shahjahan said.

"They locked up four of our houses from outside and then set them on fire. We were able to escape as our side wall was built of bamboo, but those who lived in concrete houses could not get out and they died," he said.

Shahjahan said the clashes were sparked as the Biharis marked the festival by exploding crackers - Bengali Muslims also celebrate the occasion, but in recent years have rarely used firecrackers.