10 dead in arson attack on Mirpur Bihari camp

Muktadir Rashid, Iqbal Mahmud and Ahmed Shatil Alam
A man wails over the bodies of relatives after 10 Urdu-speaking community people, including seven of a family, were killed and many injured in an arson attack at Kurmitola relief camp at Mirpur in the capital Saturday morning.  — Sony Ramany

A man wails over the bodies of relatives after 10 Urdu-speaking community people, including seven of a family, were killed and many injured in an arson attack at Kurmitola relief camp at Mirpur in the capital Saturday morning.
— Sony Ramany

At least 10 Urdu-speaking community people, including seven of a family, were killed and many injured in an arson attack after clashes in the Kurmitola relief camp at Mirpur in the capital on Saturday morning.
Nine people, mostly women and children, were killed as Bengalis from slums near by burnt the houses after scuffles and altercations said to be centring on the display of fireworks and explosion of crackers on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat, observed Friday night.
Another man, Sheikh Azad, who was injured with bullets, later died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Dhaka’s deputy commissioner Shaikh Yusuf Harun, who visited the place, said that the camp people and people living in slums nearby had clashed over fun of fireworks and crackers.
‘Some miscreants carried out the arson attack and set the camp houses on fire,’ he said.
Fire Service and Civil Defence officials soon after the incident said that ‘agitated people’ had burnt the houses about 8:00am. Seven shanties were burnt, leaving nine dead.
‘We are yet to establish who burnt the houses,’ said Imtiaz Ahmed, the deputy commissioner (Mirpur division) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
Witnesses said that the clashes had broken out after a series of scuffles between Stranded Pakistanis — Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to the erstwhile East Pakistan after the partition of India — and Bengalis after the fajr prayers. The groups chased and pelted each other with stones as the police tried to contain the situation.
Witnesses, however, said that the arson attack had been carried out in the presence of law enforcers about 8:00am.
They said that Jewel Rana, who lives in a nearby slum, led the arson attack while the police did nothing.
Before the attack, the police fired several hundred rubber bullets and teargas shells to disperse the Urdu-speaking people, who hurled stones in reply, turning the Mirpur–Banani Link Road into a battle field.
The riot police encircled the camp. They had armoured personnel carriers and water cannons ready.
The attackers then burnt a roadside camp house, of Mohammad Yasin, where his wife Baby, and their sons Lalu, 10, and Bhulu, 12, and Shahana, and her son Maruf, 3, Afsana, Roksana and Ashik were killed.
The bodies were sent to Dhaka Medical College morgue after the district administration and officials of the Prime Minister Office assured the camp dwellers that justice would be ensured.
A witness, Abdur Rahman, who along with his daughter became wounded with bullets, told New Age that ‘instead of protecting us, law enforcers were asking the miscreants to intensify the attack.’
Sheikh Azad, 35, who became injured in police shooting, later died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
More than 50 people, including policemen, were also injured. The attackers looted valuables from nearby shops and burnt at least eight houses by throwing petrol bombs inside the relief camp.
Sixty-two people, mostly camp dwellers, were detained in the incident to contain the situation, the police said.
Police officials said that the clashes had broken out over control of the camp, which has been home to 2,000 Urdu-speaking Muslims for more than four decades.
Leaders of Urdu-speaking community, however, said that the attack had been carried out in order to grab the land.
The Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee president, Abdul Jabbar Khan, said that there were many reasons that caused the clashes but ‘the main reason is to grab the land.’
He said they had lived on the land on an order of the High Court in their favour.
‘But the miscreants attacked the camp people…. They tried to evict us. Where will we go?’ Jabbar Khan said. He also asked who ordered the police to shoot at the camp dwellers.
‘We have close contact with the prime minister. We hope that we will get justice…. If justice is not done, I will urge the prime minister to talk with Pakistan’s prime minister about send us to Pakistan,’ he added.
He, however, did not directly accuse anyone of being involved in the attack but said that local musclemen and miscreants had wanted to grab the land.
‘Firecrackers were a lame excuse,’ said Jalaluddin, president of the Kurmitola relief camp.
Their leaders also blamed Juba League activists, said to be close to the local lawmaker Elias Uddin Mollah.
Armed Juba League and Chhatra League men attacked the camp with machetes and burnt several houses locking up the doors from outside in the presence of the police.
They said that that Elias Mollah had demanded illegal power connection the camp transformer three days ago. As they refused to do so, Elias’s people threatened them.
Elias Mollah, however, set aside the allegations. ‘It has been a common trend to point finger at Awami League lawmakers, Juba League, Chhatra League men in any such incident.’
Elias Mollah said that he had a meeting on electricity problem between two rival camp groups but the meeting ended without any decision as the camp people had behaved roughly.
As for overall security of the stranded Pakistani in the country, the state minister for home, Asaduzzaman Khan, when he visited the wounded in the hospital, said that the camp people were safe and that the attack was ‘merely an accident.’
Asked how the miscreants burnt the camp houses in the presence of the police, the minister said that ‘it is a matter of investigation how the houses were burnt.’
The government distributed Tk 20,000 to families against each of the deceased for burial and rehabilitation of the houses that had been damaged.
Bihari Bangali Oikya Parishad has, meanwhile, announced a seven-day mourning programme to protest at the killing.




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