A fire that left thousands of Rohingya Muslims homeless in Bangladesh camps was a "planned act of sabotage," a panel investigating the blaze said on Sunday.
Nearly 2,800 shelters and more than 90 facilities including hospitals and learning centers were destroyed in the fire on March 5, leaving more than 12,000 people without shelter, officials said.
More than 1 million Rohingya refugees live in tens of thousands of huts made of bamboo and thin plastic sheeting in camps in the border district of Cox's Bazar, most having fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.
“The fire was a planned act of sabotage,” senior district government official Abu Sufian, head of the seven-member probe committee, told Reuters by phone from Cox's Bazar.
He said the blaze broke out in several places at the same time, proving it was a planned act, adding it was a deliberate attempt to establish supremacy inside the camps by militant groups. He didn't name the groups.
“We recommended further investigation by the law-enforcing agency to identify the groups behind the incident,” he said, adding that the report was based on input from 150 eye witnesses.
The panel also recommended the formation of a separate fire service unit for the Rohingya camps. Each block of Rohingya camps needs to be widened to accommodate fire service vehicles and the construction of water cisterns, and the camps should use less flammable materials in shelters, among other recommendations.
Fires often break out in the crowded camp with its makeshift structures. A massive blaze in March 2021 killed at least 15 refugees and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.
Surging crime, difficult living conditions and bleak prospects for returning to Myanmar are driving more Rohingya refugees to leave Bangladesh by boat for countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, putting their lives at risk. U.N. data shows 348 Rohingya are thought to have died at sea last year.