Tensions as Bangladesh accuses Myanmar of firing on its territory | Rohingya news

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Mohammad Yunus, 45, a 45-year-old resident of Ghumdhum in Bangladesh’s hilly Bandarban district on the border with Myanmar, says he hasn’t been able to sleep properly for weeks.

The reason? There have been weeks of unrelenting cross-border shelling and shooting by Myanmar’s military, which experts say could be a way to push more Rohingya into Bangladesh.

“We cannot sleep at night. There are constant sounds of gunfire. Sometimes there are explosions,” Yunus told Al Jazeera by phone.

“We have left our house and moved in with a relative. We fear for our lives,” he said.

The firing from Myanmar has heightened tensions between the neighbors, raising concerns about a new exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh and diminishing prospects for their return to Myanmar.

The Bandarban administration said it has started relocating around 300 families living in Ghumdhum to a safer place inland. Around 4,500 Rohingya refugees also live in the no man’s land of the border area.

Last Friday, a Rohingya teenager was killed and four other Bangladeshi nationals were injured when landmines fired from Myanmar exploded on a strip of land on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest refugee camp, home to nearly a million mostly Muslim Rohingya, most of whom fled a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military in 2017 that the United Nations says was carried out with genocidal intent.

Myanmar was charged with genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Myanmar’s military denies the allegations.

Bangladesh is lobbying international agencies to repatriate the Rohingya, but the refugees have refused, citing safety concerns, and remain in squalid and cramped camps.

Now, weeks of incessant firing and shelling by the Myanmar military on the Bangladeshi border have heightened tensions between the neighbors.

More than a dozen Rohingya have entered Bangladesh amid cross-border firing, seeking refuge in camps near Teknaf, according to local media reports earlier this month. Hundreds more Rohingya have gathered near the border to cross the Nafi River into Bangladesh, the reports added.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said this week that the government has closed its border with Myanmar to prevent a further influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.

“We will not take more Rohingya people,” Momen said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

While Bangladesh’s border guard force, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), has increased vigilance along the 271-kilometer (168-mile) Bangladesh-Myanmar border, Dhaka has said it does not want to intervene militarily and is trying to resolve tensions. diplomatic channels.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has summoned Myanmar’s envoy to Dhaka four times in as many weeks amid serious concerns over mortar shells falling on its territory, indiscriminate aerial firing and airspace violations.

Moe said the shootings into Bangladeshi territory were carried out by the Arakan Army, an armed group fighting the Myanmar military for the rights of ethnic minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.

Since the beginning of August, there has been an increase in fighting on the border between the Myanmar army and the Arakan army.

A top official in Bangladesh’s foreign ministry told Moe that the shells that fell on Bangladesh were unacceptable. He said the dispute between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Army was their “internal matter” and how they decided to resolve it was “entirely up to them”.

Rohingya refugees
A Rohingya waits as an aid agency truck drives into a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh [File: Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Delwar Hossain, a professor of international affairs at Dhaka University, believes that Myanmar’s military firing across the border and violations of Myanmar’s airspace could be ways to provoke Bangladesh to intervene militarily.

“It kind of diverts international attention from their long-standing internal conflicts with various ethnic minority groups,” he told Al Jazeera.

He said Bangladesh was on the right track so far as it did not fall into Myanmar’s trap.

Hossain said Myanmar may be trying to force another influx of Rohingya into Bangladeshi territory.

“Myanmar’s aim is also to make things more difficult in order to delay the return of the Rohingyas to their homeland even longer. They see benefits if they can lead to strife or military action in Bangladesh,” he said.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan held a meeting with the country’s security and law enforcement agencies. He later said that the Bangladesh Army is ready to defend the country if ordered to do so.

On the same day, Bangladesh Army Chief General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed also said that his forces are ready to react against Myanmar if necessary.

However, Foreign Minister Momen emphasized again on Wednesday that Bangladesh has no intention of going to war with its neighbor and hopes that the situation can be resolved diplomatically.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently in the US to attend the UN General Assembly, is expected to raise the issue in a speech on Friday.

Hasina should also urge global leaders to play an active role in organizing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

Shafqat Munir, a senior fellow at the Bangladesh Institute for Peace and Security Studies, a think tank, told Al Jazeera that the Bangladeshi government had taken “absolutely the right steps in taking a diplomatic approach”.

“Our goal should be to solve the problem diplomatically and through dialogue. There is no need for a military solution now,” he said.

“However, we must be alert to the prospect of a new influx of Rohingya or other displaced Myanmar nationals. We must also ensure that our voices are heard in the international community.