COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Bangladesh police have clashed with suspected people smugglers sending Rohingya Muslim refugees to Malaysia, killing two of the traffickers, a police official said on Wednesday.
The clash took place on Tuesday when police acting on a tip-off raided an area near camps set up for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in southeast Bangladesh, said Pradip Kumar Das, the officer in charge of the police station in the town of Teknaf.
“As soon as the police team reached the spot, a group of traffickers opened fire on them triggering a gunfight,” Das told Reuters.
Some of the smugglers fled, but two were wounded – both Rohingya themselves – and died on the way to hospital. Four policemen were wounded, Das said.
In a separate incident on Tuesday, Bangladesh authorities said they had stopped dozens of Rohingya Muslims from being trafficked to Malaysia by boat.
Bangladesh is home to nearly 1 million Rohingya Muslims from mostly Buddhist Myanmar. Most fled a Myanmar military-led crackdown in 2017 that U.N. investigators have said was conducted with “genocidal intent”.
Myanmar has denied almost all allegations of atrocities against Rohingya civilians, sayings its forces were engaged in a legitimate counterterrorism operation launched after Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.
Refugees in Bangladesh pay traffickers for the voyage to Southeast Asia. But crossings in over-crowded boats can be treacherous, especially in the rainy season, which is beginning now.
“They’ve been luring the Rohingya, especially women, with hopes of a better life and better jobs in Malaysia,” Das said of the smugglers.
(Reporting By Mohammad Nurul Islam in Cox’s Bazar,; Writing by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Robert Birsel)