More than 200 people from Myanmar, including border guards and military personnel, have crossed into Bangladesh to escape the ongoing conflict between junta forces and armed insurgents.
As of Tuesday morning, 229 people have taken refuge in Bangladesh as the exodus from across the border continued into the third day.
"They include members of the Myanmar military and the Border Guard Police, as well as ordinary people. Efforts are underway to determine the number of people from each group," said Shariful Islam, a spokesman for Border Guard Bangladesh.
The Myanmar military and rebel group Arakan Army have been involved in intense fighting in Rakhine state, across the border from the Tumbru area in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari for the past few days.
On Saturday night, the rebels seized a Border Guard Police (BGP) outpost and 14 members of the Myanmar border security force fled to Bangladesh. Since then, more and more people have crossed the border.
Bangladesh’s BGB is disarming them and taking them into their custody. At least 15 people with bullet wounds are also being given medical care. Four BGP personnel were transferred to Chattogram Medical College Hospital on Monday night for advanced treatment.
It is not clear whether other members of the Myanmar armed forces have entered Bangladesh in search of shelter.
Amid the conflict, several members of the Chakma and Tanchangya ethnic groups from Rakhine have gathered at the zero line of the border, according to relatives in Bangladesh. They also say that they are receiving videos of more people gathering at the zero line.
Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, commissioner of the refugee relief and repatriation office, told bdnews24.com on Monday, “For the past few days, there have been battles in Rakhine state across the border. We have heard from various sources that a humanitarian disaster is developing. If the situation worsens, we fear intrusions at various points.”
“The trouble is, we are already struggling to cope with the 1.2 million Rohingya [refugees] we have been looking after for the past six to seven years. If more people start entering from Rakhine, it will create a dire situation for us.”
But Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud told the media on Monday that the border is protected and the government has discussed sending the fleeing members of Myanmar’s security forces back to the country.
“Now we are in discussions about what the process of their return will be. We are still discussing whether they will be taken back by air or through the port. We will find a way.”
The effects of the conflict across the border are being felt by residents on the Bangladeshi side as well. Many have fled their homes and sought shelter with friends and family living further away.
A Bangladeshi woman living in Naikhongchhari’s Ghumdhum area and an elderly Rohingya man were killed by a mortar shell fired from Myanmar on Monday afternoon.
Another mortar shell fired from Myanmar landed on the porch of a family’s home in Ghumdhum on Tuesday morning, but there were no casualties.
Locals say they can still hear sounds of gunfire and shelling. The Myanmar military is firing from helicopters and the rebels are returning fire, they said.
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.
Between late August and early 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.