The number of Myanmar border police personnel who have taken refuge in Bangladesh has hit nearly 100 as fierce clashes between the country's military forces and armed insurgents intensified along the frontier.
Repeated bursts of gunfire could be heard across the border in Myanmar from Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya on Sunday night, leaving local residents sleepless in fear.
As of Monday morning, 95 members of the Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) had entered Bangladesh with their weapons, said Md Shariful Islam, a spokesman for Border Guard Bangladesh, in a statement. The BGB disarmed them and gave them shelter.
The BGP has been embroiled in heavy fighting with the Arakan Army, an armed insurgent force, for the past few days in Myanmar near Tumbru in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari.
On Saturday night, the rebels occupied a BGP outpost and 14 border police personnel fled into Bangladesh.
The number began to rise as the day rolled on. As of midnight on Sunday, 68 BGB personnel had entered Bangladesh. On Monday morning that number reached 95.
At least 22 of the Myanmar border guards were injured, according to BGB spokesman Shariful. Two of them are being treated at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital.
Md Ashiqur Rahman, the hospital’s resident medical officer, said that both of them are in critical condition.
The two were identified as Ri Li Khine, 22, and Ja Ni Mong, 30.
It is unclear whether the 95 Myanmar border guards in BGB custody are the only ones to have crossed into Bangladesh.
The BGP personnel will be sent back to Myanmar, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Sunday. The government has already spoken with Myanmar on the issue.
“We do not know how long this war in Myanmar will last,” Khan said. “But we will not allow anyone else to cross the border and enter Bangladesh.”
Meanwhile, there have been reports that six injured members of the Arakan Army have been admitted to a private hospital in Cox’s Bazar. They are believed to have entered Bangladesh through the border in Naikhongchhari.
They are residents of the border state of Rakhine. Two of them are 24 years old, two others are 23, one is 20, and another is 22.
However, police have yet to provide details on the suspected rebels. Asked about the matter, Cox’s Bazar Sadar Police Station Inspector Kaisar Hamid only said that he was ‘making inquiries’.
Gofur Uddin Chowdhury, chairman of the Palankhali Union Council in Cox’s Bazar’ Ukhiya, said that extended gunfire and loud explosions could be heard from Sunday evening to around 2 am on Monday from across the border in Myanmar’s Dhekibunia.
However, there have been no new sounds of gunfire since the morning.
“Our local residents were not able to sleep out of fear,” he said. “So far, we haven’t heard any gunfire since the morning, but the people are still afraid.”
Though the area across from Palankhali is calm for the moment, gunfire was heard across the border in the Tumbru area, according to Md Shafiqul Islam, a Ghumdhum Union Council member from Ward-1.
Due to the situation, vehicles have steered clear of Tumbru Road and other nearby roads since Sunday. The local administration has closed five government primary schools and a madrasa in the border areas indefinitely.
No one is leaving home except in case of emergency. Nearly all the stores at a market in the border area were closed. Those who came to the market wrapped up their business quickly and left.
WHAT LED TO THE CONFLICT?
In 2021, the Myanmar military overthrew the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup. In late October 2023, three ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar joined forces to launch a coordinated offensive against the junta forces.
These groups are the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
These groups have engaged in armed conflict with the Myanmar military in the states of Shan, Rakhine, Chin and Kayah. The rebels have successfully taken over several important areas and army posts.
The Arakan Army, an armed force of a minority ethnic group in the western state of Rakhine, is fighting for greater autonomy for Rakhine.
The conflict between the army and insurgents is spilling over and affecting communities across the border. Sunday saw the largest influx from Myanmar since the war began.
At the end of August and start of September 2022, there were incidents of shelling from Myanmar warplanes that crossed the border into Bangladesh. Helicopters also entered Bangladesh territory.
Many people from border areas fled in panic, seeking refuge in safer locations.
Dhaka then summoned the country’s ambassador to register its protest and express condemnation and concern over these incidents.