Myanmar border guards fatally shot a Bangladeshi fisherman and wounded another Monday as they fired at a boat in a river that separates the two countries, an eyewitness and police in Bangladesh told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
The shooting marked the second reported brush between Bangladeshi fishermen and Myanmar authorities since late December in waters that lie close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
The Naaf River that runs along the border has been tense lately. Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees have poured into southeastern Bangladesh by boat in recent months as they fled killings, rapes, the torching of homes and other abuses allegedly committed against their communities as part of a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“We were inside Bangladesh waters. At around 8:30 a.m. they came into our waters by a speed boat and started firing at us,” one of the surviving fishermen, Nur Hakim, told BenarNews by phone on Monday night, referring to Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP).
Two other fisherman in the boat were injured by the gunfire, including Nurul Amin who later died at a hospital in Cox’s Bazar, a district on the Bangladeshi side of the river, Hakim said.
“I lay in the boat to save my life,” the fisherman said, adding that he sailed with his two wounded comrades to shore after four BGP officers departed in their boat.
“We want justice; should we be killed in this way for fishing in our waters?” he said.
Myanmar or Bangladesh waters?
A local police official confirmed that Nurul Amin, a 26-year-old fisherman from Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, was shot and killed in the incident, and that another fisherman, Mortuza Hossain, 24, was being treated at a local hospital.
Afrozul Haque Tutul, an additional superintendent of police in the district, said his department had contacted the Myanmar border guard, through the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), to inquire about the shooting.
“They were catching fish in the Naaf River. We are not sure whether they entered Myanmar waters,” Tutul told BenarNews.
The BGB commander in Teknaf told reporters the border guard had complained to its Myanmar counterpart about Monday’s shooting, according to local news reports.
Lt. Col. Imran Ullah Sarker said BGP officials had told him the three Bangladeshi fishermen had strayed into the Myanmar side of the river.
“Killing innocent people in this way is against the border agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar,” reports quoted Sarker as saying. He added that bilateral procedures had been implemented to handle such situations involving “innocent intruders.”
‘We have the right to fish in our waters’
Tensions along the frontier have risen since Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown after nine Burmese border guards were killed by suspected Rohingya militants in an attack in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township in early October 2016.
In May 2016, the Bangladesh border guard fired mortar shells across the border after a BGB outpost allegedly came under fire. Bangladeshi officials said they complained to Myanmar over that incident, and Dhaka also protested about an incident involving Bangladeshi fishermen and Burmese authorities in late December.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry lodged a diplomatic protest over the later incident, during which a Burmese trawler allegedly fired upon a Bangladeshi fishing boat in waters near St. Martin’s – a Bangladeshi island that lies off the coast near the Myanmar border. The crew from the trawler then allegedly took the fishing boat and its crew to a Burmese navy ship that was patrolling nearby.
No one was injured in the incident, but the crew of the navy ship held the fishermen for four hours and seized their belongings, according to the foreign ministry.
It is no longer safe for Bangladeshis to fish in the Naaf River because police on the Myanmar side of the border often fire their weapons, said one local fisherman.
“We have the right to fish in our waters. But fishing in the [Naaf] river has become very risky due to the frequent firing by the Nasaka without any provocation,” Teknaf fisherman Abdul Kuddus, 55, told BenarNews, using an old name for Myanmar’s border police.
“The government must take measures to stop it; we want a peaceful atmosphere,” Kuddus said.
Reported by Kamran Reza Chowdhury from Dhaka, Bangladesh, for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.