BIREUN: A boat carrying more than 100 Rohingya refugees, including dozens of children, landed on the coast of Indonesia’s westernmost province Aceh early on Sunday, police said.

The vessel, which sailed from a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, arrived shortly after 3am on a beach in Bireun district.

It was carrying 114 people, including 58 men, 21 women and 35 children aged under 15 years old, police said. “We will conduct a general health check-up and Covid-19 rapid antigen tests for these foreigners,” local police chief Mike Hardy Wirapraja said.

He said they would later be transferred to neighbouring Lhokseumawe district which has a shelter for refugees.

Bangladesh arrests Rohingya cleric over activist’s murder

Police found out about the arrival after some local fishermen reported that a boat filled with Rohingya people had landed on the beach.

The boat appeared to be in good condition and the refugees had sufficient food and supplies during the journey.

“We are originally from Myanmar but we fled to Bangladesh and we started our journey from Bangladesh,” one of the refugees, Omar Faruk, told a journalist, adding that the group had been at sea for 25 days.

“We left Bangladesh because the Rohingya situation at the camp is not good, it’s getting very bad at the moment,” the 11-year-old said in English.

Faruk said he left his mother in Bangladesh and followed his uncle to start a new life, preferably in a Muslim majority country like Indonesia or Malaysia.

“We left Bangladesh to this country to make a beautiful future... I have no father, only one uncle and my mom is still in Bangladesh. I came here because I want to improve my education,” he added.

It is the second arrival by the persecuted minority in Muslim-majority Indonesia in the recent months.

Cleric arrested

Bangladesh police arrested a powerful Muslim cleric who allegedly issued an execution edict against a prominent Rohingya activist shot dead last year in the vast refugee camps near the Myanmar border, officials said on Sunday.

The murder last September of Mohib Ullah, the head of an important civil society group, sent shockwaves through the massive settlements that house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s army in 2017.

His family blamed the murder on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which is the main Rohingya insurgent group in western Myanmar and suspected to be involved in drug smuggling and violent crime in the camps.

On Saturday, an elite Bangladeshi police unit arrested Moulvi Zakoria, the alleged chief of the Ulema Council, a council of powerful clerics tied to ARSA.

“Moulvi Zokaria issued a fatwa (a religious edict) to assassinate Mohib Ullah. Then Mohib Ullah was killed. Zakoria went into hiding,” said police official Naimul Haque. He said Zakoria had “disagreements with Mohib Ullah”.

“Mohib Ullah was working for the repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar. But the work of the so-called ARSA was to destroy the discipline in the camps,” he said.

The overwhelming majority of the Rohingya people are conservative Muslims. Sources said ARSA has a firm grip on the religious affairs of the Rohingya people through the Ulema Council.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2022

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