Tension along Tambru

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, March 8th, 2018

A flag meeting between BGB and BGP underway at Ghumdum union BGB camp under Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari upazila on Friday, March 2, 2018 (Courtesy)


Good borders make good neighbours. If countries sharing borders can resolve their border irritants whatsoever through negotiations and dialogues at civil and military levels, they serve the duty of good neighbours. But what we’ve been observing over the past one week or so on certain stretches of our southeastern fringes along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is very disturbing to say the least.


Repeated build-ups of heavy military equipment and Myanmar security forces’ taking positions along Tambru border in Bandarban’s Naikkhongchhari created panic among the persecuted Rohingyas who have long taken shelter in the no man’s land. Such display of force in close vicinity of a neighbouring country’s borderline does not go down well as far as maintaining good neighbourly attitude is concerned. Flexing military muscles does not serve the best interests of good neighbours, deescalating tension does.


Bangladesh being at the receiving end of all the troubles centring around worst mass exodus of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya community can ill-afford any further affront. Bangladesh being Myanmar’s neighbour has long been playing host to many people coming from across the border and since the August last year when Myanmar’s brutal army crackdown forced lakhs of Rohingyas to flee from their land for safety, Bangladesh is giving refuge to over a million persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar. The least Bangladesh can expect now is a peaceful repatriation of the Rohingyas. Instead, if tension continues to brew in the southeastern front, peace and security will only come under renewed threats.


Last week Myanmar defended deploying troops to the border zone with Bangladesh where thousands of Rohingya refugees are camped, blaming a militant threat. Dhaka called for an immediate retreat to lower tensions along the troubled frontier. The increased security presence was centred around a strip of no man’s land between the two countries where some 6,000 Rohingyas sought shelter after fleeing an apparent ‘ethnic cleansing’ unleashed by Myanmar army since last August. The UN has accused Myanmar of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslim minority. But Myanmar has staunchly defended the crackdown as an effort to flush out the so called Rohingya militants who in Myanmar authority’s claim had raided police posts last year.


International news media quoted a Myanmar government spokesman to say that the recent spike in security along the border is a response to new intelligence about the movement of Rohingya militants. However renewed military build-up on the troubled border zone within three days of initial tension de-escalation courtesy a BGB-BGP (Border Guard Bangladesh and Border Guard Police) flag-meeting is quite worrisome, particularly for the ones seeking refuge from persecution and also for Bangladesh’s own citizens living in close vicinity.


Such disturbing developments on Bangladesh-Myanmar unfolded at a time when Bangladesh’s Home Minister told media in Dhaka that BGB-BGP will start joint patrolling on the border from March 27. Repeated displays of military build-up on the border zone also took place at a time when three women Nobel peace laureates – Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland – reached all the way to refugee camps in Bangladesh to show empathy. They (Nobel laureates) shed tears failing to control strong emotions, they hugged the Rohingya women, many of whom were raped and tortured in Myanmar, and sought justice before the world on their behalf. They rallied behind the cause of Rohingya community and asked their fellow Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, either to rise to the occasion and stop persecution or quit.


Within two days of Nobel laureates’ visit to the no man’s land and meeting the stranded Rohingyas, Tambru border witnessed the additional movement and reinforcement of forces on the other side. Myanmar, though, on its part assured that “It was not aimed at antagonising Bangladesh.” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry summoned Myanmar’s envoy to call for an immediate pullback of Myanmar security forces along with military assets from the area. In recent weeks the Rohingya living in the no man’s land strip have faced growing pressure from Myanmar soldiers, who have stepped up patrols along the barbed-wire border fence near the camp and ordered the group to leave over loudspeakers. The heightened tensions will do little to speed-up a stalled repatriation plan signed by Bangladesh and Myanmar in January this year. The process was delayed at the last moment due to lack of preparations and amidst fears among the refugees and international communities about no-guarantee to their (Rohingyas) basic safety and citizenship once, if at all, they are repatriated.


When further heightening of security was again observed with days of flag meeting last week, confirming the development, Lt Col Monzurul Hassan Khan, commanding officer of the 34th battalion of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said: “The situation along the Tambru border point is now calm and the BGB members, deployed in the border area, are on alert. There’s nothing to be panicked about and the BGB is ready to tackle any situation.” Ghumdhum union Chairman AKM Jahangir Aziz said members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) were seen patrolling the area since Monday morning. Just two days before that, Myanmar had removed its army from Tambru following a flag meeting with BGB on Friday. At the flag meeting, BGP had claimed that its increased presence and recent firing at Tambru was meant to protect Myanmar territory and should not be viewed as acts of aggression against Bangladesh.


Around 6,500 Rohingyas from different villages in the Rakhine state are stuck in the no man’s land since late August of last year. They are also reportedly among the 8,032 named in the initial repatriation list, which the Bangladesh government handed over to Myanmar last month. A good number of Rohingyas also gathered near the zero point of the border in the last one month. BGP members and Myanmar army personnel were seen conducting various activities there like installing barbed-wire fences, digging bunkers, and setting up advanced technological surveillance equipment. The security forces over the past one month have also been issuing warnings using loudspeakers and asking refugees to leave the area.

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