Bangladesh-Myanmar border crisis

By Mahmood Hasan

WHAT happened on 28 May at Naikhanchori on the Bangladesh Myanmar border was most unfortunate and totally unwarranted. Unprovoked firing by Border Guard Police (BGP) of Myanmar killed Nayek Md. Mizanur Rahman (43), a brave soldier of Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). Myanmar BGP opened fire without provocation near border pillar 52 at Naikkhanchhari of Bandarban district, wounding Mizanur. BGP then intruded into Bangladesh territory and took away injured Mizanur. Mizanur apparently died without medical attention at the hands of BGP.

On 30 May when BGB team went to border pillar 52 looking for Mizanur, BGP again opened fire on the BGB team, which led to a gun battle. As tension built up in the area a 10-member BGB team led by Major Tarik went across the border in response to a call from BGP on 31 May. The team identified the body of Mizanur and brought it back to Bangladesh.

Following the incident, Myanmar Ambassador Myo Myint Than in Dhaka was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on 29th May. Bangladesh handed a note verbal to the Ambassador strongly protesting the unprovoked firing and detaining of a BGB soldier. When the BGP again opened fire on 30 May, the Myanmar Ambassador was again called to the Foreign Ministry and told that BGP must stop firing and demanded thorough investigation into the incident of firing and killing of BGB soldier. The ambassador was told that Myanmar’s army deployment violated the 1980 Bangladesh-Myanmar Border Agreement. The Ambassador was told that Bangladesh wants a peaceful border for continued friendly relations with Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Foreign Ministry also issued a press release on 31 May 2014. The first paragraph states that BGP fired on two suspected armed “Bengalis” inside Myanmar territory between border pillar 51 and 52 in Maungdaw Township. In subsequent paragraphs Myanmar Foreign Ministry denied BGP opening unprovoked fire on the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). Clearly, the Myanmar Foreign Ministry was contradicting itself, while trying to put up a lame defense.

The Myanmar press release went further, stating that the Notes Verbal handed to their Ambassador in Bangladesh …“are totally far from the real situation on the ground”. They ended the press release with, “Myanmar will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity ….. will resort to diplomatic means to solve problems peacefully in view of existing bilateral friendly relations and good neighborliness”.

The problem here is the fear that Myanmar border police harbor against the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). They see the ghost of RSO in every human being near the border. Rohingya Solidarity Organization was formed in 1980 to achieve citizenship and obtain their rights as Myanmar citizens. It is well documented and widely known how Myanmar treats this ethnic group of about 1 million Muslim people living in the Rakhine state. According to the United Nations they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Under the Burmese citizenship law of 1982, this minority group lost their citizenship. Subsequent Myanmar governments have systematically subjected them to severe economic, social and legal discrimination. Frequent communal riots have brought worldwide condemnation of the Myanmar government. Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on Human Rights in a recent report stated that ‘long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya Muslim community amounts to crimes against humanity”.

On 29 March 2014, Myanmar government banned the word “Rohingya” and asked for registration of the minority as “Bengalis” in the country’s first census in three decades. This move by Thein Sein government came under serious international criticism. If the Rohingyas call themselves “Bengalis” – they would then be described as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. It was a vile and clever move by Myanmar.

Bolstered by the current Chairmanship of ASEAN, President Thein Sein (retired army general) instead of being inclusive has pursued an apartheid policy so far as the Rohinya community is concerned. The rise of RSO and other Rohingya clandestine groups is a natural corollary of that policy. Though Thein Sein claims to be “democratic” his actions and policies do not conform to the tenets of democracy. He continues to show a siege mentality. The brutal riots of 2012 in Rakhine had displaced hundreds of thousand Rohingyas, now living in camps provided by UNHCR. Alas, Burmese “democracy icon” Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has conspicuously kept quiet over the riots and persecutions of Rohingya Muslims.

Here one need not be reminded that Myanmar continues to fight unending battles with insurgent groups, such as the Shans, Karens, Kachins, Mons etc. These wars between the Buddhist “Burmans” living in the central Irrawady basin with the ethnic people of the seven bordering states have been going on since 1948, when Myanmar (Burma) got independence from Britain. Persecution of the Rohingya community has added another insurgent group. Myanmar has to blame itself for this development.

Bangladesh is clearly not involved in harbouring the RSO or for that matter any insurgent group on its territory. Myanmar could have raised the issue of the RSO with Bangladesh at the consultative meetings that takes place between the two Foreign Ministries at regular intervals. Choosing instead to open fire on BGB troops was an irresponsible act and not a solution.

Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) was formed after the corrupt and abusive Buddhist-dominated Nasaka was disbanded in July 2013. Nasaka, which had an anti-Rohingya agenda, operated only in Rakhine. It appears that the BGP is no better than the Nasaka.
Bangladesh BGB Chief Major General Aziz Ahmed is scheduled to travel to Myanmar on June 9 for high-level meetings with his Myanmar counterpart. Hopefully Myanmar will accept its responsibilities and investigate the reasons behind the unprovoked shooting. Myanmar has responsibilities to maintain peace and security on the 190-kilometer border of the two countries as well. There is no reason for Myanmar to think that Bangladesh is a soft state and can be intimidated. Border Guards of Bangladesh will take a tough stand against any irresponsible acts of Myanmar border police.

The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary and published in the daily star on June 4, 2014


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