Samina Akhter

Samina Akhter is a Dhaka-based columnist and women and human rights activist.

Time to Deescalate Myanmar-Bangladesh Border Tension

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3 mins read

Myanmar’s persistent use of mortars to invade Bangladeshi land amounts to a declaration of war on Myanmar’s part and a diplomatic blunder on the part of the government of Bangladesh. In the most recent incident, Myanmar fired three mortar bombs on September 16 into Bangladeshi territory near the Tambru border in Bandarban, killing one man and injuring six others, who were taken to the hospital that night. On September 3, Myanmar fired at least two deadly shells 120 meters into Bangladesh at the Tambru border. On August 28, it launched two additional mortar shells across the same border into Bangladesh, but they did not explode. On August 20, a comparable occurrence occurred at the same border.

Following each incident, Bangladeshi authorities called the ambassador of Myanmar to Dhaka and gave him protest letters. What started with mortar rounds that hadn’t detonated has so far come to a close with the deaths and injuries caused by shell explosions. Bangladesh has reportedly handled the situation professionally on a bilateral basis up to this point, but all that seems to be happening is escalating tensions, which, according to Myanmar, is a provocation for war. Bangladesh is correct to resist giving up.
All of this suggests, however, that despite their repeated claims to be the best of friends, India, China, and Russia have not been persuaded to help prevent Myanmar from inciting a war with Bangladesh. These countries include India, which has cordial bilateral relations with Myanmar, China, which exerts significant influence over Myanmar, and Russia.

According to media reports, Bangladeshi authorities consider bringing the matter before the UN for resolution if diplomatic attempts to date have been unsuccessful.

In December 2018 China and Russia abstained from UN negotiations, and in December 2017 they opposed a UN resolution on the Rohingya problem. It is understandable that the military-run Myanmar, which has a population one-third that of Bangladesh’s and suffers from low credibility throughout the world, would appear to be breaking international law by shelling Bangladesh, given Bangladesh’s weak strategic and political position on the world stage.

In response to recent casualties at Bangladesh’s Bandarban border, the foreign ministry of Bangladesh summoned Myanmar’s ambassador in Dhaka, Aung Kyaw Moe, and delivered a stern protest letter. Since mid-August, the ministry has summoned the Myanmar ambassador four times for violations of land and airspace by Myanmar along the border in Bandarban’sNaikhongchhari, as well as many incidences in which mortar shells from the neighbouring nation landed on Bangladeshi soil.

To counteract any effects of the unrest in the Rakhine state, the Coastguard and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are still on high alert in the border region. The Myanmar Armed Forces have fired mortar shells into Bangladesh territory on numerous occasions, leaving the population living near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border areas feeling uneasy. In the most recent incident, which happened on Friday night, five mortar rounds fired from Myanmar detonated at a Rohingya camp in a no-land man’s close to Tumbru bazar in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhariupazila, killing a 28-year-old man named Mohammad Iqbal and injuring eight others. An earlier land mine explosion in Bandarban’sNaikhongchhari border area injured a young Bangladeshi man.

The ambassador for Myanmar confirmed that many mortar bombs had been fired into Bangladeshi territory, but he asserted that their insurgent groups had also fired heavy artillery and mortars, some of which had landed on Bangladeshi soil. In this regard, the foreign ministry reaffirmed the government of Bangladesh’s policy of “zero tolerance” toward terrorism and its refusal to harbour any forces threatening the security of its neighbours.

The current crisis is instilling terror among the defenseless citizens residing in Myanmar’s border regions, it has been warned Myanmar.

Bangladesh requested Myanmar to stop engaging in actions that endanger local residents’ lives and means of subsistence. Bangladesh also urged that Myanmar stop its careless military actions close to the border and make sure that no Myanmar-made ammunition enters Bangladeshi territory.

Bangladesh has already said clearly that it wishes to resolve its differences with Myanmar amicably. Therefore, the nation hopes that Myanmar will learn from their error and stop taking actions in the future that would harm bilateral relations.

The Myanmar Armed Forces kept firing many mortar shells into Bangladeshi territory on purpose in an effort to stir up trouble near the border. Bangladesh is working to find a diplomatic resolution with Myanmar because it doesn’t want a war. And the nation will make every effort, taking the matter to the UN if necessary (UN).

The government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, never supports armed conflict and always favours peaceful resolution. Bangladesh is attempting to resolve the issue on a bilateral and multilateral level. We are hopeful that the international community and the UN will step up and take the necessary actions to put an end to this disturbance.

Although a battle with a neighbour is not desirable, a diplomatic solution to the problem should still be sought. If necessary, Bangladeshi authorities should raise this with the UN. To find a solution, it must intensify its diplomatic efforts on a regional and global scale.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh should maintain a standing national army to defend its borders, fend against Myanmar, and avert any dangerous situations.

Views expressed are personal

Tense Border: On that Unintentional Error

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4 mins read

For the last few days tension has been growing along the Myanmar border with Bangladesh which has also spread among locals at Naikhongchari and Ghumdhum border areas. According to media reports, Myanmar security forces orchestrated a series of fierce attacks from fighter planes and helicopters inside Bangladesh border in Bandarban on Saturday morning. (September 03) Shells and gunshots were fired from warplanes and helicopters in the Ghumdhum area at around 9:20am.

At least four Myanmar fighter aircraft reportedly crossed into Bangladesh’s air space over Naikhongchhari upazila in Bandarban Saturday morning.

Media reports read that law enforcers are currently on alert after the incident. However, no casualty was reported.

On Thursday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh is better prepared so that none can enter from Myanmar now due to the deteriorated situation in Rakhine state.

“We do not want to step into Myanmar’s provocation or trap,” he said, adding that the Myanmar side might have a strategic benefit if they can move in such a unilateral direction.

Police and locals said that two warplanes and helicopters patrolled across the Myanmar border between BGB-BOP border pillars no 40-41 in Ghumdhum’s Tumbru area.

At that time around 8-10 shells were fired from the warplanes, and two of them landed 120 metres inside Bangladesh. Besides, the helicopters were also seen firing some 30 bullets.

Locals also said at least four rounds of heavy shells were fired from BGP-2 Tambru Right Camp in Myanmar part, between the border pillar No 34-35 in Naikhongchari on Saturday morning.

Firing was also reported from Muringajhiri Camp and Tambru Right Camp in Myanmar.

On August 28, Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) hurled mortar shells at the border in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari.

Two mortar shells landing in Bangladeshi territory from Myanmar earlier on August 28, where heavy fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military have been reported, on Sunday is a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh and to bilateral relations between the two countries. The incident bodes ill not only for Bangladesh and Myanmar but also for regional stability. The shells landed at Naikhyangchari in Bandarban on Sunday afternoon, creating panic among the locals in the Tumbru Uttar Para border area. The bomb disposal unit of the Border Guard Bangladesh is reported to have defused the shells. Such a situation has legitimately become a cause of serious concern for Bangladesh that sees the incident, be it intentional or accidental, as a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh that can deteriorate the relations between the two countries.

The relation between the countries have already remained strained mainly because of the irresolution on the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas — over a million Rohingyas fled violence in Rakhine and entered Bangladesh over the past four decades, with over 700,000 entering the country only in 2017.

Repatriation efforts have faltered since the two countries signed deals, first in November 2017 and then in January 2018, mostly because of the reluctance of the Myanmar authorities and a fearful situation in Myanmar.

When the landing of the mortar shells on Sunday is the recent example of Myanmar’s apparent disregard for the sovereignty of Bangladesh, its bilateral relations with Bangladesh and peace in the region, the Myanmar authorities are not yet known to have acknowledged the incident and clarified their position.

Such disregard was also noted when Myanmar helicopters violated the Bangladesh air space a number of times in August-September 2017, which the Bangladesh authorities strongly protested. However, the repetition of such incidents suggests Myanmar’s continuous breach of international laws. It is also contrary to good neighbourly relations and could lead to unwarranted situations, which are not in the interests of not only Myanmar but also Bangladesh and other regional countries. While a stable and peaceful neighbour is always preferred and, in fact, necessary for any country, an unstable Rakhine is a threat to safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas, an unstable border is a threat to the people living there.

It is, therefore, imperative that the Bangladesh authorities protest to its Myanmar counterparts and seek explanations on the mortar shells incident and see to it that such violation never happens again, for the interests of both countries and the region.

The Bangladesh authorities have, therefore, strongly protested the mortar shell incident to the Myanmar authorities and must also officially inform international and regional forums about the recent and earlier incidents of violation of international laws. The government stepped-up security measures on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border so that people living there feel safe.

According to media reports, law enforcement agencies have further strengthened security measures along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border at Naikhongchari point as locals reported firing from helicopters from the Myanmar side on Saturday.

The law enforcement agencies including Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) remain alert and intelligence surveillance has also been increased near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already and will have summoned Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Aung Kyaw Moe again on Sunday to lodge a strong protest regarding the matter.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Thursday said the government has warned Myanmar and they assured that the country will remain more careful.

On Thursday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh is better prepared so that none can enter from Myanmar now due to the deteriorated situation in the Rakhine state.

The Myanmar side was warned twice in August following mortar shells landing in Bangladesh territory from Myanmar and a strong protest was lodged in this regard. “We do not want to step into Myanmar’s provocation or trap,” he said, adding that they (Myanmar side) might have a strategic benefit if they can move in such a unilateral direction.

On August 29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Myanmar envoy and lodged a strong protest against Myanmar’s mortar shells landing inside Bangladesh territory a day earlier.
Bangladesh has lodged a strong protest with Myanmar so that such incidents do not happen again. Bangladesh has also strongly condemned the incident.

But tackling insurgency is an internal issue of Myanmar. Myanmar can’t violate the sovereignty of Bangladesh anyhow in the name of unintentional error. Myanmar must have respect to international law. Myanmar must respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Such kind of continuous attitude can damage bilateral relations and destabilize the whole region. Myanmar must remember that Bangladesh is also a militarily capable country.

Views are personal