Bangladesh will not allow Myanmar to take advantage of its goodwill amid escalating tensions at the border, Dhaka has told representatives from various countries.
Referring to the multiple times Dhaka has summoned the Myanmar ambassador and its briefing to ambassadors from ASEAN countries, Rear Admiral Md Khurshed Alam, acting secretary of foreign affairs, underscored Bangladesh's stance during a briefing of diplomats on Thursday.
“We have told the other diplomats the same thing – we took in the Rohingya five years ago and they have not taken a single one back. As our prime minister has said, we are working on the matter patiently.”
He called for an immediate end to the 'unwarranted' shelling from Myanmar, pointing out that the heavy fighting along the border has endangered livestock, barred people from their paddy fields and even forced some to leave their homes. "This cannot be allowed to continue.”
“For this reason we asked them all for their support so that Myanmar does not continue to create unrest in the region and take advantage of us in the future.”
Khurshed said he urged the representatives to ensure that Myanmar does not use the current border conflict to refuse the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingya.
“We do not want to be involved in any way. If we get embroiled in this, Myanmar may try and find an excuse [to deny] the return of the Rohingya. We do not want to give Myanmar that excuse.”
Khurshed said the diplomats were very understanding of Bangladesh’s situation and its attempt to steer clear of any inciting incidents.
“They responded that they will relay this to their respective capitals and have given assurances that if they have the opportunity to do something about the situation in the future, they will, particularly through the UN.”
Asked whether Myanmar was deliberately firing shells into Bangladesh, the former Navy official said: “That isn’t up to us to determine. Whether it is intentional or not, what we can say is that it destabilises the region. The Myanmar government has to understand this. The Tatmadaw has to understand what they are doing.”
Khurshed suggested the manner in which mortar shells have landed in Bangladesh indicate attempts to draw the country into the border conflict.
“We will not respond to these efforts. I am bringing these matters to your attention. If you feel it is proper that you take action, you will.”
Bangladesh is maintaining contact with the Myanmar government at all levels, he said.
Responding to the comments Myanmar made on the issue, shifting blame for the violence to rebels, Khurshed said: “They have been saying similar things since the start.”
MYANMAR BLAMES INSURGENTS
Myanmar has laid the blame on the Arakan Army and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Group (ARSA) for the recent incidents of cross-border shelling during a meeting with Bangladesh's ambassador in Yangon.
On Monday, U Zaw Phyo Win, a top official at Myanmar's foreign ministry, called in Ambassador Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury to clarify the situation at the border amid rising tensions.
Reports coming out of Myanmar suggest a full-blown armed conflict has broken out between the country’s military, officially known as Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army, insurgents fighting for self-determination for ethnic minorities in Rakhine state, also home to over a million Rohingya who have taken refuge in Bangladesh.
The armed struggle has raged on for the last three weeks and intensified recently after the rebels killed 19 junta police officers and captured a police outpost in Maungdaw Township near the border.
The heavy fighting along the border recently resulted in casualties in Bangladesh, prompting Dhaka to summon the Myanmar envoy on four separate occasions in the space of a month to lodge protests.
Phyo Win, the director-general of the foreign ministry's Strategic Studies and Training Department, told Manjurul that the AA and ARSA, deemed a terrorist group by Myanmar, attacked a border outpost with mortars on Sept 16, with three shells landing inside Bangladeshi territory.
The insurgents used the same weapons to attack another outpost on Sept 16 and 17, which saw nine mortar shells being fired across the border into Bangladesh, he added.
According to Phyo Win, the rebels have been deliberately carrying out such attacks to put a strain on the cordial bilateral relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Myanmar is taking the necessary security measures close to the border with utmost caution and it is mindful of bilateral agreements and international norms as it respects the integrity and sovereignty of all nations, including Bangladesh, he said.
The director general expressed Myanmar's willingness to work with Bangladesh to maintain tranquillity along the border and stressed the significance of "full and reciprocal cooperation" in that regard.
He added that Dhaka had been informed about the trenches and bases of the AA and ARSA located inside Bangladeshi territory through diplomatic channels on Sept 7, while reiterating Myanmar’s call to take necessary and immediate action to investigate and dismantle those structures and bases.
On Sept 16, a Rohingya teenager was killed and several others injured when a mortar fired from Myanmar hit a refugee settlement on no-man's land. A Bangladeshi man was also injured in a ‘mine’ explosion near the border in Bandarban's Ghumdhum.
On Aug 28, two mortar shells from the military-ruled country also landed in Bangladeshi territory, prompting Dhaka to summon the Myanmar envoy in Bangladesh to issue a strong statement condemning the action.
The border strikes have been keeping residents of the Bandarban frontiers on edge for several weeks.
Earlier this month, Myanmar military aircraft and helicopters also crossed the border into Bangladesh and opened fire.
Bangladesh has since moved to tighten security on the border with Myanmar, with the government stating it will raise the issue with the United Nations if the shelling continues.