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Mitigating tensions and ensuring peace along Myanmar-Bangladesh border

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By: Kamal Uddin Mazumder

Every country must have regional peace and harmony in order to develop economically and culturally. History has shown us that if a region does not enjoy peace, many nations will suffer, and many people will suffer as a result. Despite a few isolated instances occasionally posing grave concerns, Southeast Asia has been relatively peaceful over the past few decades.

By breaking international law and the sovereignty of Bangladesh, which is currently the temporary home of over 1.2 million Rohingya who fled Myanmar’s Rakhine province due to ruthless ethnic cleansing, Myanmar has recently tried to sabotage regional peace. Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts and the ongoing conflict in Russia and Ukraine, any hostility between Myanmar and Bangladesh will harm both nations’ future in addition to upsetting the peace in the region. As a result, the leaders of both nations ought to choose peaceful solutions.

Along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, tension has been rising over the past few days. Media reports claim that on Saturday morning, Myanmar’s security forces coordinated a series of ferocious attacks from fighter planes and helicopters within Bangladesh’s border city of Bandarban. According to reports, at least four Myanmar fighter aircraft entered Bangladeshi airspace above Naikhongchhariupazila in Bandarban early on Saturday. According to media accounts, law enforcement is currently on high alert following the event. Bangladesh’s sovereignty and the bilateral relations between the two nations are at risk as a result of two mortar rounds that came from Myanmar earlier on August 28 and landed in Bangladeshi territory. There have been reports of severe combat between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military.

The mortar shells that were fired on Sunday are the most recent instance of Myanmar’s blatant disrespect for Bangladesh’s sovereignty, its bilateral relations with Bangladesh, and regional peace. The Myanmar government is not yet known to have acknowledged the occurrence or made clear their viewpoint. Such disdain was also evident when, in August and September 2017, Myanmar helicopters repeatedly violated Bangladeshi airspace, to which the Bangladeshi government vigorously objected. Then it was said that the Arakan Army rebels are being controlled and capsized by raids carried out by the Myanmar Army along the Bangladeshi border. This time around, there have also been similar rumours. The persistence of these occurrences, however, points to Myanmar’s ongoing violation of international law.

Fighting insurgency is a matter for Myanmar’s domestic politics. However, Myanmar is unable to violate Bangladesh’s sovereignty under the pretext of an accident. Additionally, if a government needs to conduct a military action near to a border with another country, it must notify the neighbouring country in advance. Myanmar, however, made no such disclosure, which begs the question of their motivations. International law must be respected by Myanmar. Myanmar must respect the independence of Bangladesh. Myanmar needs to keep in mind that Bangladesh is also a militarily strong nation and that using force will not benefit either nation.

Bangladesh has every right to be extremely concerned about this issue since it views the incident, whether it was deliberate or not, as a danger to Bangladesh’s sovereignty. The ongoing impasse over the safe and respectful return of the Rohingyas has already damaged relations between the two nations. In the previous four decades, more than a million Rohingyas have escaped the turmoil in Rakhine and entered Bangladesh, with more than 700,000 doing so only in 2017. Since the two nations signed agreements, first in November 2017 and then in January 2018, repatriation attempts have stalled, primarily due to the unwillingness of the Myanmar government and a tense situation in Myanmar.

Additionally, it runs counter to friendly neighbourly relations and may result in unnecessary events that are not in the interests of just Myanmar but also Bangladesh and other nearby nations. An unstable Rakhine region poses a threat to the safe and honorable return of the Rohingya population, and an unstable border poses a threat to those who live there. A stable and peaceful neighbour is always desired and, in fact, essential for any country. Additionally, it is intolerable to keep driving Myanmar residents toward Bangladesh while fighting insurgents or carrying out ethnic cleansing. Therefore, it is essential that the Bangladeshi government protests to its colleagues in Myanmar and requests an explanation for many prior instances.

As a result, the Bangladeshi government has voiced its strong objection to the mortar shell event to the Myanmar government. It must also formally tell international and regional forums about the recent and past instances of international law violations. To make the residents feel secure, the authorities tightened security along the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Law enforcement organizations, such as Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), are also on high alert, and intelligence surveillance has been stepped up close to the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Myanmar representative on August 29 and strongly objected to Myanmar’s mortar shells that had entered Bangladeshi territory the previous day. Bangladesh has strongly protested the occurrence with Myanmar in order to prevent it from happening again.

Bangladesh has vehemently denounced the incident as well. To express their vehement objection over the situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh AungKyaw Moe once more on Sunday.

The government has cautioned Myanmar and has given the assurance that the country would continue to be more cautious, according to Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen on Thursday. As a result of the deteriorating situation in the Rakhine state, Bangladesh is now better prepared, according to State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam, so that no one may enter from Myanmar. Following mortar shells fired from Myanmar into Bangladeshi territory in August, the Myanmar side was twice warned, and a strong complaint was made in this regard.

On August 24, 2022, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, urged the international community to step up efforts to hold offenders accountable and bring justice to the Rohingya inside and outside of Myanmar. This came five years after Myanmar forces started a genocidal attack against Rohingya men, women, and children in Rakhine State. The Bangladeshi administration, particularly Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has pleaded with world leaders to put more pressure on Myanmar to allow the peaceful return of Rohingya refugees, but little progress has been made so far.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, issued a statement on the Rohingya crisis on August 25. He stated that the US is aiming to greatly enhance resettlement, which gave birth to hope for sharing the cost of resettling the sizeable number of Rohingya refugees in third countries. The unfortunate Rohinya refugees will benefit from this reform. We hope the Rohingya problem is resolved quickly.

Even though Myanmar made significant provocations, PM Hasina’s visionary leadership prevented any military conflict between the two nations. The US Congress also indicated their support for Bangladesh in any action taken against Myanmar as the Rohingya refugees began to arrive in Bangladesh in large numbers in August 2017.

But because PM Hasina is a foresighted leader who is keenly focused on her country’s prosperity and regional stability, she quietly ignored Myanmar’s provocation.

Further provocations from Myanmar may lead to additional confrontations given the presence of India and China in the area, and the United States can play a significant role if force is necessary. To maintain peace and stability in the region, China and India should both permit Bangladesh to function as a neutral and peaceful region. Otherwise, the US will be forced to step in and interfere, which will put the region’s peace, harmony, and stability at risk owing to international and regional politics.

The visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India began on Monday, and the atrocity committed by Myanmar soon before her arrival raises more concerns about their intentions to sabotage regional peace.

Myanmar must understand that they cannot keep driving their people into another independent state. For the sake of their prosperity at least, the Myanmar military regime must refrain from viewing our modesty and humanity as our weakness. Hopefully they will understand how crucial regional peace and stability are. We are confident that regional peace will reign and Southeast Asia will continue to thrive.

The writer is a Security and Strategic Affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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