Bangladesh says it has protested to Myanmar about an incident this week in which mortar-shell fire from the Burmese side of the frontier hit a Bangladeshi border guard outpost.
“We, through the foreign ministry, have lodged complaints with the Myanmar authorities about it. The border guards of the two countries will meet and discuss the issue,” Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told RFA on Friday.
“Our forces immediately retaliated with counter firing.”
No one was injured in the Wednesday night incident in which six mortar shells came down and exploded at a helipad at a Border Guard Bangladesh outpost in Alikadam Upazila (see map below), a sub-district in southeastern Bandarban district, BGB officials said.
A BGB operation to search for the people who launched the mortars was ongoing as of Friday along a hilly and porous section of Bandarban’s border with Myanmar, said Khan, whose ministry oversees the border guard.
Khan said Bangladeshi authorities also were trying to determine whether the mortars were fired by the Arakan Liberation Army, a Myanmar rebel group that operates just across the border in Myanmar’s Arakhine state, or by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP).
Officials with Myanmar’s embassy in Dhaka could not be reached for comment.
Since the incident Bangladesh has reported no other incidents of cross-border shelling.
Bangladesh shares a 271 kilometer (168.3 mile) border with Myanmar in its southeast. A stretch of at least 150 km (93.2 miles) is porous because of rugged, hilly and densely forested terrain.
The Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) has been active on both sides of this stretch. In August 2015, it was involved in skirmishes with BGB units, which led to the arrests by Bangladesh of four suspected ALA members.
These included Renin Su, an alleged ALA leader and Dutch citizen of Myanmar origin who is now in jail. According to Bangladeshi officials, he had frequently visited the Chittagong Hill Tract region over an 18-year period and was staying illegally in Rangamati district when Bangladeshi authorities picked him up last year.
Aside from the presence of rebels along the border, tensions exist between the two countries over the issue of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar crossing into Bangladesh as they flee from persecution at the hands of the neighboring country’s Buddhist majority, where they are not recognized as citizens.
Border guards on both sides of the frontier have occasionally exchanged fire. The latest skirmish took place on May 30, 2014, when a Bangladeshi border policeman was killed in an “unprovoked attack from Myanmar,” according to Bangladesh.
The shelling incident occurred between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, when six shells landed at a BGB camp in the Bulu Para sector of Alikadem Upazila, slightly damaging the helipad, officials said.
“The shelling, we suspect, came from the other side of the border. We responded with spontaneous shelling and beefed up security and surveillance. None of our forces was injured,” Col. Habibur Rahman, a BGB commander, told reporters Thursday.
He said the BGB had informed Myanmar’s Border Guard Police about the incident.
The Myanmar army had been fighting with Arakanese rebels inside its territory, Rahman added.
“The shells could have been fired by any of the sides,” he added.
A thaw in relations?
According to a diplomatic expert, Bangladesh has been interested in improving relations with Myanmar, especially since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took office in Naypyidaw.
Suu Kyi, now Myanmar’s foreign minister, had said that she planned to improve relations with all neighbors, including Bangladesh.
“As a democratic icon, Suu Kyi would try her best to thrash out all bilateral problems with Bangladesh. Our prime minister also wants warm relations with our second neighbor, Myanmar. So, I think both governments would behave responsibly,” Ashfaqur Rahman, a former Bangladeshi ambassador, told RFA.
Reported by RFA.