'Sabotage' behind Bangladesh Rohingya camp fire

Investigators say many smaller fires were lit, causing the blaze that left thousands homeless

Rohingya refugee boys salvage a gas cylinder after a major fire in Balukhali camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh, Sunday, March 5, 2023.  A massive fire raced through a crammed camp of Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh on Sunday, leaving thousands homeless, a fire official and the United Nations said.  (AP Photo / Mahmud Hossain Opu)
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A fire that left more than 12,000 people homeless at a Bangladesh refugee camp was a “planned act of sabotage”, investigators have said.

A blaze ripped through Camp 11 of Cox Bazar in the south of the country on March 5, destroying schools and hospitals and about 2,800 shelters. No deaths were reported.

“The fire was a planned act of sabotage,” senior district government official Abu Sufian, head of the seven-member probe committee told Reuters.

He said the blaze broke out in several places at the same time, proving it was a planned act and a deliberate attempt to establish supremacy inside the camps by militant groups. He didn't name the groups. He said the report was based on 150 eyewitnesses' account of the fire.

“We recommended further investigation by the law-enforcing agency to identify the groups behind the incident,” he said.

Fires are a common occurrence in the packed camp, filled with makeshift structures of bamboo and plastic sheeting.

Cox Bazar has hosted over one million Rohingya refugees after they fled persecution from Myanmar's military, exacerbated by a military takeover in 2021.

But amid rising levels of organised crime in the camps and waning chances of returning to Myanmar, many are risking their lives to leave Bangladesh on dangerous boat journeys to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 10:27 AM