Bangladesh steps up security at the India border

DHAKA: Wild elephants attacked a new camp where Rohingya refugees were sleeping, killing a woman and her three children in southern Bangladesh, an official said yesterday. A herd of elephants entered the Balukhali camp in Ukhiya town early Saturday and trampled tents where several refugees were sleeping, said district forest official Mohammed Ali Kabir. Four other people, including the woman's husband, were injured in the attack, Kabir said.

Many others fled to safety when they heard the elephants approaching. Officials said the new camp was built in a forest area that was earlier frequented by elephant herds. The woman's husband, Abu Bakar Siddique, said Sunday that he had been released from the hospital, but that one of his children and some other relatives were still hospitalized. More than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh since Aug 25, when Myanmar security forces responded to attacks by a militant Rohingya group with a broad crackdown on the long-persecuted Muslim minority.

Many houses were burned down. The United Nations has called the violence "textbook ethnic cleansing." Siddique said he and his family made the perilous journey from Rakhine state to reach Bangladesh some four days ago. They found a place and were living in a tent in one of the camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have taken refuge. "I fled Myanmar to avoid attacks by the military. But the elephants have killed my wife and children," Siddique said. "It is painful to live this way. I have lost everything." Kabir, the forest official, said that the elephant habitat was under threat and that the passages used by the animals to move from one place to another have been encroached by human settlements.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has tightened security along its western border with India amid concern that hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees could be pushed into its territory, officials said yesterday. Patrols have been stepped up along the frontier with India's West Bengal state, where border guards say they have been ordered in recent weeks to steer Rohingya into Bangladesh. Tariqul Hakim, an area commander of the Border Guard Bangladesh, said Rohingya could be seen gathering opposite the Putkhali frontier post, where just a narrow river divides the two countries.

"We have stepped up surveillance and patrols so that no Rohingya can be pushed into our territory," Lieutenant Colonel Hakim told AFP. There are 40,000 Rohingya in India but the Indian government wants them deported, telling a top court last month they pose a security threat. Hakim said Rohingya communities inside India could be trying to reunite with their families in southeast Bangladesh, where more than half a million Rohingya refugees have arrived since August from Myanmar.

An estimated 536,000 refugees have crossed since August 25, fleeing violence in western Myanmar described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing. An Indian border guard in West Bengal said that patrols had previously turned over all Rohingya intercepted at the frontier to local police. "But now our directions are very clear, and that is to push all Rohingya into Bangladesh," he told AFP on condition of anonymity. "We are trying to accomplish our task with active local support".

A Bangladesh border guard official, Abdul Hossain, said villages along the frontier were on high alert, with newly-arrived refugees saying they had been encouraged by Indian guards to cross the border. "We've been patrolling the border day and night to prevent their entry. Local villagers have also joined us in the patrols," Hossain said. Local council member Nazrul Islam said more than a dozen Rohingya who crossed at a southwestern part of the frontier Friday reported Indian guards opening a section of barbed wire to allow them to pass easily. - Agencies