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Conflict along Bangladesh border 'provoked' by Myanmar junta, may destabilize region

By Samina Akhter* 

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 September 3. Shells and gunshots were fired from warplanes and helicopters in the Ghumdhum area at around 9:20 am.
At least four Myanmar fighter aircraft reportedly crossed into Bangladesh's air space over Naikhongchhari upazila in Bandarban last weekend.
Media reports read that law enforcers are currently on alert after the incident. However, no casualty was reported.
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 helicoptrs 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.
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 -- 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, 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 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 a 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.
Relations have strained mainly because of irresolution on safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar
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.
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 summoned Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Aung Kyaw Moe to lodge a strong protest regarding the matter.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said the government has warned Myanmar and they assured that the country will remain more careful.
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 the bilateral relations and destabilize the whole region. Myanmar must remember that Bangladesh is also a militarily capable country.
---
*Dhaka-based columnist and woman and human rights activist

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