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Myanmar Reduces Troop Presence Along Bangladesh Border

Jesmin Papri and Tushar Tohin
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
2018-03-02
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A member of Myanmar’s security forces keeps watch along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border as Rohingya refugees stand outside makeshift shelters near Tombru, in the Bangladeshi district of Bandarban, March 1, 2018.
AFP

Myanmar pulled back security personnel and weapons from near a no-man’s land along Bangladesh’s southeastern frontier, as border-guard officials from both countries met Friday after Dhaka complained about a troop build-up by Naypyidaw, officials said.

Representatives from Myanmar said during the meeting that Naypyidaw had deployed additional troops and weaponry in the area for “internal security” reasons and these “were not targeted at Bangladesh,” according to Bangladeshi officials. The meeting took place in Ghundam, in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district.

“Their explanation is not acceptable,” Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh’s acting foreign secretary, told BenarNews when asked how Dhaka viewed the claim about internal security made by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP).

Dhaka had summoned Myanmar’s ambassador the day before to lodge a diplomatic protest, when it accused Naypyidaw of increasing its troop presence and deploying heavy weaponry, including mortars and machine guns, near the no-man’s land by the Tombru crossing point, where more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees have been stranded for months.

“Myanmar’s military build-up is aimed at pushing in the Rohingya living in the no-man’s land to Bangladesh,” Alam said.

Lt. Col. Majurul Hasan Khan, a Border Guard Bangladesh commander who led the Bangladeshi delegation, spoke to reporters after Friday’s meeting.

“On Friday, Myanmar’s BGP pulled back their additional personnel and weaponry. The Rohingya living in the no-man’s land are unharmed,” Khan said.

“The BGP officials informed us that they very often deploy army and BGP [personnel] on the border for their ‘internal security.’ As part of this, they said they brought in heavy weaponry. They said it was completely for Myanmar’s own security,” Khan said.

In addition, the BGP denied that its personnel had fired off “blank shots” or there was any shooting from the Myanmar side of the border on Thursday night, Khan told BenarNews. He was responding to questions based on eyewitness accounts from refugees in the no-man’s land, who said they had heard Myanmar troops fire off rounds.

Some refugees had also complained that Myanmar troops had used loudspeakers to order refugees to clear the no-man’s land.

Khan said the Myanmar delegation sought clarification from the BGB about why Bangladesh had installed CCTV cameras along the frontier.

“We have told them that it is for our internal security. This is not targeted at Myanmar,” Khan said.

Rohingya refugees in the area confirmed that Myanmar scaled down its troop presence near the no-man’s land following Friday’s meeting.

“Today, they reduced troops and weapons. They also removed some military vehicles,” Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya sheltering in the no-man’s land near Tombru, told BenarNews.

Bombs in Sittwe: Myanmar

On the Myanmar side of the border, government officials said that extra troops had been deployed along the frontier with Bangladesh to guard against what they described as a potential attack from the other side by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents.

“In recent days, there were bomb explosions in Sittwe, and it is known there are ARSA terrorists mingling with people [along] this border line of the two countries. According to this report, we increased security, and already replied about this to Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry,” U Myint Thu, Myanmar’s permanent secretary of foreign affairs, told the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.

He was referring to blasts in the capital of Rakhine, the home state of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya minority.

The build-up was in response to new intelligence reports about movements of Rohingya insurgents along the border, Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar’s government, told Agence France-Presse.

“It was not aimed at antagonizing Bangladesh,” he said, according to AFP.

Zaw Htay told the Associated Press: “This is not like we are trying to invade Bangladesh and fight against them. These are only actions taken against the terrorist groups based on information we received.”

Myanmar has blamed ARSA insurgents for launching attacks on police and army outposts in northern Rakhine in late August 2017 that provoked a brutal military crackdown. This, in turn, forced at least 671,000 Rohingya to seek refuge across the nearby border in southeastern Bangladesh.

The U.N. and U.S. have accused Myanmar of carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against the Rohingya. But Myanmar officials have denied allegations that government security forces and Buddhist militias committed atrocities against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya.

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