In a sudden move, the Myanmar security forces has once again heightened its presence in the no man’s land between Bangladesh’s Konarpara and Myanmar’s Tambru border points, sparking fears among the Rohingya people stranded there and renewing the tension between the two neighbours.
A large number of army personnel along with 10 trucks loaded with heavy arms and ammunition were dispatched on the Tambru side of the border strip on Thursday.
Dil Mohammad and Arif Uddin, two leaders of the Rohingyas stuck in the no man’s land, confirmed the military’s manoeuvre to the Dhaka Tribune, saying the heavily-armed troops were massed close to the border.
The army personnel have gradually been gathering in bunkers in the close vicinity of the border for the last couple of days, but they were seen heightening their presence in the area with heavy weapons on Thursday morning,” Mohammad said.
Using ladders, members of Myanmar security forces tried to cross a barbed-wire fence in the no man’s land at 7:40pm, but they retreated as the aggrieved Rohingya began hurling brickbats.
In the evening, the army personnel fired multiple rounds.
Bangladeshi locals at Gumdum’s Tambru, Konarpara and other adjacent areas said the military action led them to become tense, and such sudden movement from Myanmar security forces may hamper the repatriation process.
Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) and army men also issued warnings using loudspeakers and asked the Rohingyas to leave the no man’s land – a tactic they have been using over the past month.
Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad said depression and fear have gripped around 6,500 people who have taken shelter in the no man’s land since August 25 last year, when ethnic conflicts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state sparked the most rapid human exodus seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
With tension mounting at Tambru, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel on the Bangladesh side have been ordered to stay on high alert,” BGB Cox’s Bazar Ad-hoc Region Director (operation), Lt Col Khalid Hasan, said.
BGB high-ups in Dhaka also said they were strengthening their positions along the border at Konarpara, under Naikhongchhari’s Ghumdum union in Bandarban.
BGB on high alert
Border Guard Bangladesh has been put on full alert and took positions along the border,” BGB Cox’s Bazar Ad-hoc Region Director (operation) Lt Col Khalid Hasan said, adding that they were yet to uncover the reason behind the Myanmar army’s move.
“Our intelligence sources said Myanmar’s border police asked the Rohingya living in the no man’s land to move away. They are perhaps trying to push the stranded people towards Bangladesh,” Hasan said.
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Heavy military presence at Tambru on Myanmar's side is seen since the morning on Thursday, March 1, 2018 Tarek Mahmud/Dhaka Tribune
He, however, added that the situation is still under control, and there is no need to deploy troops in the border area at this moment.
BGB Additional Director General (operations and training) Brig Gen Mujibur Rahman said that deploying army with heavy arms and ammunition on border goes against the border norms.
“We’re on high alert and observing their activities,” he told a press briefing at the BGB headquarters in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, the BGB has sent a protest note to the BGP and asked twice for a flag meeting in this regard, but the latter has yet to respond to the call.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said there was “no reason” behind such military build-ups and claimed the Myanmar army has “unnecessarily heightened” their presence in Tambru.
“BGB Director General Maj Gen Abul Hossain has contacted BGP officials and tried to know about the causes of their patrolling on the border,” he told reporters after attending a parade of the BGB 19th batch at Baitul Ijjat in Satkania upazila of Chittagong on Thursday.
“Our BGB is always ready to tackle any possible untoward situation on border and will never bow down to the forces of other countries,” the minister said.
Foreign Ministry summons Myanmar envoy
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry summoned the newly-appointed Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka, Lwin Oo, over the issue on Thursday afternoon.
Protesting the Myanmar move, acting Foreign Secretary Rear Admiral (retd) Md Khurshed Alam told the envoy that such military build-up would create confusion within Bangladesh and escalate tensions on the border, according to a press release issued by the Foreign Ministry.
“Such move may hamper the repatriation process which both sides agreed to implement,” he said, urging the Myanmar authorities to immediately pull back its security forces and military assets from the area.
A diplomatic note on the subject was also handed over to the ambassador.
The Myanmar army and BGP’s 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 from February 25 to 27.
Addressing a press conference following their visit on Wednesday, the trio called for an immediate end to the ongoing genocide against the Rohingyas in Rakhine.
Accusing the Myanmar military of committing genocide, the Nobel laureates also sought the international community’s support to take the matter to the International Criminal Court.
Is the move a reaction to Nobel laureates’ remarks?
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, former Bangladesh Head of Mission in Myanmar Major (retd) Emdadul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that the sudden manoeuvre of the Myanmar military “could also be a reaction to the remarks made by the three Nobel Peace laureates”.
He said it could also indicate that the country’s civil administration does not have control over its armed forces.
“On the one hand, the country’s civil administration says they will take back the Rohingya people from Bangladesh and the no man’s land, and on the other hand, their armed forces have heightened their presence on the border so that the frightened Rohingya move away from the area.
“By so doing, the Myanmar authorities actually want to give a message to the international community that the country is ready to take back the Rohingya people, but they are not willing to return home.”
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh in fear of their lives over the past six months, joining more than 400,000 others who were already living in cramped makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar.
On November 23, Dhaka and Naypyidaw signed an agreement to begin repatriating the refugees from January this year, but this process has stalled over technical and ground-level complexities.