Myanmar’s military has dug bunkers along Bangladesh’s border while multiplying its troop presence in one area of the frontier, eyewitnesses and Bangladeshi officials said Friday.
The build-up at the Tombru frontier area in southeastern Bangladesh was reported last week and led to a tense meeting between border officials of the two nations. A subsequent pull-back by Myanmar appears to have been temporary, people on the other side of the border said.
“People living in the border area have been scared since the Myanmar military started digging bunkers and patrolling with heavy weapons,” Abdur Rahim, a member of Tombru union council, told BenarNews.
He said 40 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) usually patrol the Tombru-Konaparu point “but now over 250 soldiers have been patrolling here.” An eyewitness said soldiers were wearing BGP uniforms to disguise themselves.
Last week, Myanmar officials said extra troops were deployed to guard against what they described as a potential attack from the Bangladesh side by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the insurgent group whose attacks on police and army outposts in northern Rakhine State in August 2017 led to a military counter-offensive that precipitated a massive exodus of the Rohingya.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that at least 688,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh since the eruption of violence. At least 1,300 families, or approximately 5,300 people, also fled their homes and are now living in makeshift camps near a canal in the so-called no man’s land, the U.N. agency said.
“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, last week.
‘Ready to protect’
Maj. Manjurul Hasan, a Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) deputy commander of a unit posted in Naikhangchhari, told BenarNews that Myanmar had been continuing its military build-up.
“Army personnel have been patrolling in the Myanmar portion. The BGB has been put on high alert,” he said.
“There is no reason to be worried. The BGB has always been ready to protect the country,” he said.
On March 1, Myanmar started mobilizing troops and moving weapons in along the border, leading Bangladesh foreign ministry officials to issue a diplomatic protest, asking Myanmar ambassador’s government to withdraw its forces from the frontier’s no-man’s land.
The next day, Bangladesh and Myanmar border officials met to discuss troop mobilization issues.
Myanmar officials assured their Bangladesh counterparts the build-up was for internal security, and within a day began removing troops. That truce was short-lived, according to BGB officials and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Dil Mohammad, a leader of the 6,500 Rohingya refugees living in the no-man’s land in Tombru, told BenarNews that soldiers had been intimidating them to enter Bangladesh. He and others do not want to leave Myanmar.
“Early Friday, the Myanmar soldiers threw brickbats and blank wine bottles on the shanties of the Rohingya. They have dug bunkers and have been patrolling along the zero line,” he said.
“We will in no way enter Bangladesh. We want to go back with Myanmar citizenship,” he said.
Mohammad, who worked as a Bangla interpreter for the BGP, said he saw two military trucks carrying Myanmar troops along Baishari border point.
“The Myanmar military have been patrolling in the uniforms of BGP so no one would detect them,” he said.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said his government deployed troops along the border, but Bangladesh would not be caught in a trap.
“We have deployed additional BGB personnel as the provocation continues in the border. The BGB has been put on alert,” he told BenarNews on Friday.