Deadly shelling sends more Bangladeshis fleeing border amid fighting in Myanmar

Myanmar citizens have also gathered along the border, fuelling concerns over a possible exodus

Sankar Barua Rumibdnews24.com
Published : 5 Feb 2024, 09:52 PM
Updated : 5 Feb 2024, 09:52 PM

The killing of two people in Bangladesh by a mortar shell from across the border amid fighting between the Myanmar military and rebels has sent more residents of Tumbru in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari fleeing for safety.

Myanmar citizens have also gathered along the border, fuelling concerns over a possible exodus, after more than 100 armed members of their Border Guard Police took shelter in Bangladesh in two days.

Almost all shops, schools and businesses were closed in Tumbru, while streets were deserted for the past few days as bullets and shells fired from Myanmar started landing on this side of the border, sometimes hitting homes, vehicles and people.

On Monday afternoon, Bangladeshi woman Hosne Ara, 45, and Rohingya labourer Nobi Hossain, 65, died after a mortar shell landed and exploded in the kitchen of Hosne Ara’s home in the Jolpaitali area.

The bodies were sent to Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital for autopsy at night. Along came Hosne Ara’s elder brother Nurul Alam and Nobi’s son-in-law Abdus Shukkur from Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhiya.

Nobi was among over 1 million Rohingya who fled decades of persecution and a brutal military crackdown in 2017 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Shukkur said Nobi had been working for Hosne Ara’s family for the past few years. He came to the area for the last time a week ago.

“I’ve come from the camp to receive the body after hearing that my father-in-law and the landlady died in a mortar shell attack,” said the refugee man.

Nurul said Hosne Ara was giving food to Nobi in the kitchen during the incident. Her intestine came out of her belly in the impact of the explosion of the mortar shell while Nobi was hit in his torso and head, Nurul said. Both died on the spot.

Nurul said the residents of the area used to take shelter nearby and frequent their homes for livestock and valuables during such fighting in Myanmar in the past, but many have gone to their relatives’ homes far away after the deaths of two in shelling.

“We’re still hearing the sound of gunfight at the border,” Nurrul said. The army is using helicopter gunship and mortar shells while the rebel Arakan Army is retaliating with gunfire, according to him.

“I have never seen such a situation in the 65 years of my life along the border. Now the condition is not suitable for living here.”

Brigadier General Morshed Alam, commander of Border Guard Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region, said during a visit to the area that the BGB protested against the killings to Myanmar’s BGP.

The BGB said 106 BGP personnel surrendered after crossing the border. Sources said a number of Arakan Army rebels also took shelter in Bangladesh.

But unconfirmed reports of Myanmar nationals gathering at the border created concerns over the possibilities of a fresh exodus like the one in 2017.

Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, said reports suggest the conflict has created a humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine.

“In this situation, we fear infiltration through several points,” he said.

“But the problem is we are already overburdened with around 1.2 million Rohingya refugees for six to seven years. It’ll be horrific for us if more people start coming from Rakhine.”

Mizanur urged the UN and other international organisations to send aid to the Myanmar citizens stuck at the border so that they do not have to cross and put more burden on Bangladesh.

He also said the Myanmar citizens at the border are from different ethnicities, and the BGB were alert to stop them from entering Bangladesh.

bdnews24.com has obtained three videos of these Myanmar people at the border. One of them sent the videos to a relative in Bangladesh after the family from an ethnic minority group other than Rohingya attempted to flee Rakhine.

The relative in Bangladesh said the families at the border are from Chakma and Tanchanga tribes. They took shelter at the border in an attempt to enter Bangladesh through Ukhiya.

He also said the group include 200-300 people who waited along the barbed wire fence for long before returning to the Myanmar side when fighting escalated.

bdnews24.com could not verify the videos that showed people from small ethnic groups other than Rohingya gathering along a barbed wire fence. Some of them were walking through a field while some others were resting under a tree.

BGB’s Morshed said: “We’ve sealed off the border. Rohingya or the others will not be allowed to enter Bangladesh. The BGB is working there.”

Abu Salam Chowdhury, senior assistant director of Rapid Action Battalion-15 in Cox’s Bazar, said they were alert so that they can take steps even if someone crosses the border.