Landmines Threaten Refugees in No Man’s Land on Bangladesh-Myanmar Border

2017-09-11
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Two Rohingya boys gather firewood and cross the “no man’s land” separating Myanmar and Bangladesh, Sept. 10, 2017.
Two Rohingya boys gather firewood and cross the “no man’s land” separating Myanmar and Bangladesh, Sept. 10, 2017.
BenarNews

In an area known as “no-man’s land,” near a muddy creek that separates Myanmar and Bangladesh, dozens of Rohingya children sprinted toward a reporter, their arms outstretched as they begged for food. Hours earlier, refugees said, they had found three landmines in the same area as they crossed a barbed-wire fence along the frontier.

A Rohingya man, Nur Ahmad, handed a BenarNews reporter his cellphone, which had video clips of refugees mingling around what looked like two anti-personnel mines on a muddy footpath. Other footage showed what appeared to be a landmine on top of a shovel.

“They planted these so that we cannot get back to Rakhine again. We are very worried about it,” he told BenarNews, saying he had shot the footage Sunday morning and that another Rohingya man had defused one of the explosives.

Among more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees who have spilled into southeastern Bangladesh as they have fled a new wave of violence in the neighboring Mynmar state of Rakhine, at least four people have been killed in land-mine explosions while trying to cross over, Bangladeshi officials said.

“On Saturday and Sunday, three (Rohingya) people were killed in mine blasts on the border,” Dilip Kumar Banik, the deputy commissioner of Bandarban, a southeastern district that borders Myanmar, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Two other Rohingya were injured in the blasts.

Another landmine blast killed one person on Friday, and at least six others had been injured in recent explosions, he said.

Bangladesh security forces told Banik that Myanmar soldiers had planted the landmines. BenarNews could not independently confirm his claim.

Refugees said they did not see soldiers planting the mines, but insisted they had not seen any insurgents in the area.

Last week, Bangladesh lodged a diplomatic protest with the Myanmar embassy over the matter, when it complained that Myanmar forces were violating international norms by laying landmines along the border.

A Myanmar military source told Reuters that the landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them. But none had been planted recently.

The news agency also quoted two Bangladeshi sources as saying that three to four groups of Myanmar soldiers had been photographed recently while laying land mines.

On Monday, United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Myanmar was waging a systematic campaign against the Rohingya people, and he warned that ethnic cleansing seemed to be under way in Rakhine.

Deliberate planting, rights group says

Over the weekend, London-based Amnesty International (AI) accused Myanmar security forces of planting landmines.

The human-rights watchdog group cited interviews with eyewitnesses and said it had documented “what seems to be targeted use of landmines along a narrow stretch forming part of the north-western border of Rakhine State.”

“This is another low in what is already a horrific situation in Rakhine State. The Myanmar military’s callous use of inherently indiscriminate and deadly weapons at highly trafficked paths around the border is putting the lives of ordinary people at enormous risk,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response director, said in a statement.

Several eyewitnesses, including Bangladeshi border guards, said they had seen Myanmar security forces plant mines close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, AI’s statement said.

In southeastern Bangladesh, officials at the Chittagong Medical College hospital told BenarNews that at least two Rohingya refugees – Yusuf Nobi, 28, and Md Hasan, 25 – had been admitted with injuries consistent with landmine explosions.

They also said at least 91 Rohingya refugees, mostly suffering from bullet and burn injuries, had been admitted to the hospital since Aug. 24, when the violence erupted in Rakhine state.

‘Not been eating for days’

According to an on-duty member of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Rohingya refugees had dug up three anti-personnel landmines over the weekend.

A bomb-squad member of the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorism unit saw the photos and videos shown to BenarNews on Sunday, and confirmed that the three metallic discs were anti-personnel mines.

Mainuddin Khan, the officer-in-charge of Teknaf police station, also told BenarNews that the discs appeared to be landmines.

Lt. Col. Monjurul Hasan Khan, commander of the BGB in Cox’s Bazar district, told BenarNews that he heard anti-personnel landmines explode near the border area of Baishfari on Sunday morning.

He said the BGB had intensified patrols along the border after Rohingya refugees and BGB members spotted a group of Myanmar soldiers patrolling along the border in Tambru on Sunday.

That day, a BenarNews correspondent saw thousands of Rohingya refugees waiting in “no-man’s land” to enter Bangladesh. Dozens more could be seen crossing the barbed wire fence.

Bangladeshi border guards with assault rifles were allowing children to cross the creek – a tributary of the Naf River – to beg for food or water.

An elderly woman discussed her plight.

“I don’t have to go to the toilet,” she told BenarNews. “I have not been eating for days.”

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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