Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) has claimed its increased presence and recent firing at the Tambru border point with Bangladesh is meant to protect Myanmar territory and should not be viewed as acts of aggression against Bangladesh.
The reassurances were given on Friday afternoon at a flag meeting between BGP and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) at Ghumdum union BGB camp under Bandarban's Naikhongchhari upazila.
“BGP told us that number of Myanmar troops has been increased at the border to handle their country's territory problem and Thursday evening’s firing was to protect themselves,” Lt Col Monzurul Hassan Khan, commanding officer of BGB 34th battalion, said.
“BGP denied opening fire at Bangladesh territory and setting up heavy weaponries in the border area. However, we have asked them to inform us first before carrying out a similar manoeuvre in the border area next time, so that no misunderstanding take place between the forces of both countries.”
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Lt Col Saw Zarya Lwin - the BGP commanding officer at Rakhine state’s Tambru, otherwise known as Taung Pyo Letwe on the Myanmar side - led the seven-member BGP delegation at the meeting after visiting the border areas in the morning.
Lt Col Monzurul led a same-sized BGB delegation.
The situation at the border and in the no man’s land between Bangladesh’s Konarpara and Myanmar’s Tambru was normal on Friday, but Myanmar military personnel were seen until the afternoon. Their number, however, was less than Thursday.
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Increased presence of BGP personnel at Tambru on the Myanmar side of the border on Friday, March 2, 2018 | Tarek Mahmud/Dhaka Tribune
The flag meeting had started around 3:30pm and ended around 4:30pm, Lt Col Khalid Hasan, director (operation) of BGB Cox's Bazar Ad-hoc Region, said.
The meeting was called by BGB after Myanmar sent a fresh batch of soldiers to Tambru in the morning. A day before, Myanmar had sent a large number of army personnel with 10 trucks loaded with heavy arms and ammunition on the Tambru side of the border strip.
Around 15 minutes before the meeting started, six more trucks full of Myanmar army personnel were deployed at Tambru.
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Several senior BGB officials, who declined to be named, also confirmed that fresh troops had arrived at the border area on Friday.
The BGB also took up positions along the border but the situation had not deteriorated by evening.
Lt Col Monzurul earlier in the day had said they also installed three closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras at Tambru border area to monitor Myanmar army's movements and the Rohingyas stuck in the no man's land.
There were no CCTV cameras in the border before.
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More BGP personnel have been deployed at Tambru on the Myanmar side of the border on Friday, March 2, 2018 | Tarek Mahmud/Dhaka Tribune
Meanwhile, tensions were running high among the 6,500 Rohingyas whose camp in the no man’s land has been encircled by armed personnel from both sides since Thursday.
Reassuring the Rohingyas and the locals of the border areas, Lt Col Monzurul Hassan Khan said: "We are on high alert and monitoring everything. There is no reason to panic.”
But Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are encircled in the middle of the two heavily armed forces. We are very worried and not leaving the camp at all. Anything can happen at any moment.”
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The 6,500 refugees of the no man’s land are reportedly among the 8,032 named in the initial repatriation list, which the Bangladesh government handed over to Myanmar last month.
BGP and army men over the past one month have also been issuing warnings using loudspeakers and asking the refugees to leave that area.
Bangladeshi locals at Gumdum’s Tambru, Konarpara, and other adjacent areas said the military action had caused them to become tense, and that such sudden movement from Myanmar security forces may hamper the repatriation process.
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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday also summoned the newly-appointed Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka, Lwin Oo, over his country’s military build-up and handed him a note verbale.
The Myanmar security forces’ move came two days after three Nobel Peace laureates – Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland – visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and Tambru border point.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since a military crackdown began in late August 2017 following an insurgent attack in Rakhine state. They joined more than 400,000 Rohingyas who were already living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Our Cox’s Bazar correspondent Abdul Aziz and Bandarban correspondent S Bashu Das contributed to this article