Bangladesh’s border guard in recent weeks has pushed back nearly 300 Rohingya Muslims who have tried to cross over as they flee deadly violence in neighboring Myanmar, but officers have not shot at any of them, officials told BenarNews.
As many as 130 people have been killed during the past five weeks in violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which is next-door to Bangladesh, since Burmese authorities mounted a crackdown in early October following lethal attacks on border-guard posts on the Myanmar side of the frontier, the Reuters news agency quoted officials from that country’s army as saying.
Nearly 100 people have been reported killed in violence in Rakhine since Nov. 11, amid the crackdown that was launched after nine Burmese police officers were slain in attacks on border posts on Oct. 9, according to a news release issued on Thursday by New York-based Human Rights Watch,
“Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 17, we have pushed back 278 Muslim nationals from Myanmar as they tried to enter Bangladesh territory illegally. We have intensified patrols and vigilance along the border,” Md. Abu Zar Al Zahid, commander of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in the southeastern town of Teknaf, told BenarNews on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the government in Naypyidaw said security forces had detained 59 suspected militants in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township, bringing the total number of people detained in the crackdown to almost 300, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
The violence gripping Rakhine is the worst since inter-communal unrest between ethnic minority Rohingya and members of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority left 200 people dead and led to many Rohingya crossing into Bangladesh four years ago.
The Rohingya are a stateless people who reportedly have suffered from persecution in Myanmar, where they are considered to be “Bengalis,” or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Teknaf sits on the Naaf River, which separates Bangladesh from Myanmar. On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported that some among hundreds of people fleeing the violence were shot as they tried to cross the river. But the report did not clarify whether Myanmar or Bangladeshi border guards fired on them.
The BGB turned back 86 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not shoot at any people who were trying to enter Bangladesh illicitly, Al Zahid said earlier.
In Dhaka, Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal denied the report of shootings along the border or that the BGB had shot at people trying to cross over.
“Our position is: no illegal entry; be it Rohingyas or others. We have sealed off our border,” he told BenarNews on Thursday.
‘Please save us’
Bangladesh’s frontier police, a paramilitary force that comes under his ministry, and the Bangladeshi coast guard were on alert in the border area, which consists of a 209 km (130 mile) land boundary and a 63 km (39 mile) river boundary with Myanmar.
A member of the Bangladeshi security forces, who requested anonymity, said he witnessed many Rohingya – women and children among them – pleading to Bangladeshi officials to give them shelter.
“In groups, they started crying ‘please save us from the Maghs (the majority Buddhists) and the military’ … ‘they will kill us, if you send us back.’ But we had to push them back. I felt sorry for them,” the source told BenarNews.
On Wednesday, a separate source who is with the BGB told BenarNews that “more than 200 Rohingya Muslims” were “waiting near the Bangladesh border” and could try to cross over at any time.
About 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingya are thought to live in Bangladesh, mostly in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, according to Bangladeshi government estimates.
“If they had an opportunity to enter Cox’s Bazar, it would be a tough place to live,” Mozammel Haq, president of the Rohingya Resistance Committee, an anti-Rohingya local group in Teknaf, told BenarNews.
“The refugee camps are already occupied and there is no space. The Rohingyas have been settling in different areas and destroying forests. They are also involved in criminal activities,” Mozammel added.
Shahriar Sharif in Dhaka contributed to this report.