Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to protest unusual troop movements near its southeastern borders, where refugee camps house close to 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar, authorities said Monday.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and foreign ministry officials said authorities in the region had noted unusual numbers of Myanmar security forces since early Friday, at several points near the border, including in civilian ships.
“Large ships can be seen in Myanmar waters. Law enforcers are on high alert in this island,” Nur Ahmed, chairman of St. Martin’s Union Council, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, by telephone. St. Martin’s island in the Bay of Bengal is a top tourist attraction in the Cox’s Bazar region.
The unusual troop movements without any prior notice have caused Bangladesh border guards to go on alert.
“We have confirmed that there was suspicious movement and presence of Myanmar troops in their area,” Lt Col. Ali Haider Azad Ahmed, commander of the BGB unit in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
“So we have intensified all activities including patrolling. Everyone has been kept on alert at the border. If anything happens, including new infiltrations, it will be prevented,” he said.
A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, meanwhile, reached out to his Myanmar counterpart.
“We called in the Myanmar envoy and expressed our concerns. He was asked to convey our message to the appropriate authorities,” Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar cell at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews.
Increased traffic at the border
A Rohingya camp leader in Teknaf district – the southernmost tip of Bangladesh, which lies across the Naf River from Myanmar’s Rakhine state – told BenarNews that camp residents noticed Myanmar troops setting up seven or eight tents.
“There has been an increase in traffic at the border for two days. It could not be confirmed whether they were police or army members, but the residents of the Rohingya camp are afraid of this,” Mohammad Nur, a camp leader, told BenarNews,
In southeastern Bangladesh, refugee camps house about 1 million Rohingya, including more than 740,000 who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a brutal military crackdown that began on Aug. 25, 2017, in the wake of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police outposts that killed 9.
Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, told the BBC on Monday that Myanmar officials had not informed their Bangladesh counterparts about the troop mobilizations, despite an agreement to do so.
“[T]he Myanmar army has increased the number of troops in several places near the border with Bangladesh using civilian boats,” he told the British media. “Whatever happens in these cases, there is a rule for neighboring states to notify the other side if they take action against any internal insurgency.
“But they did it without informing us. That’s why we informed the embassy here.”
A professor at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka said the troop movements could be part of an effort to keep Rohingya out of Myanmar.
“Myanmar has been trying to totally eradicate the Rohingya from Rakhine state from the beginning. The new army deployment may be a part of that effort,” Dr. Tareque Shamsur Rehman told BenarNews.
“They are adamant they will not take back the Rohingya despite directives of the International Court of Justice and the pressure from the United Nations. They will continue to do so, as long as the Western world does not impose economic sanctions on Myanmar,” he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.