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Will Myanmar's War Split into Bangladesh?

Will Myanmar's War Split into Bangladesh?

Myanmar’s ongoing civil war is not just internal now. The intensity of the conflict brings the conflict uncomfortably close to Bangladeshi residents. Military helicopters patrolling near the border and the disturbing loud sound of frequent mortar shelling echoing in the distance. 

Myanmar’s military Junta is now losing ground to the united ethnic resistance groups including the Arakan Army (AA) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) everywhere including bordering Rakhine state and the clashes intensified there in recent days.

At least two people were killed and a child was injured after a mortar shell from Myanmar, fell on the Ghumdum border in Bandarban on Monday (February 5).

Bordering Bangladeshi residents now deserting their home in fear of falling prey to the indiscriminate bullets coming from Myanmar. At least five schools and a madrasha were kept shut again to ward off any untoward incidents.

Local sources told Tvista that the recent fire exchange among the battling party and the landing of shells, bullets inside Bangladeshi territory have frightened the local community.

Several schools are closed and farmers said they cannot go out for daily activities as the bullet shots are coming from the opposition border area.

Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) sources said that at least 50 mortar shells landed near border pillars 47 and 48 in the last three days. 

“We are trying to make people calm but the situation is quite intense here. People are in constant fear.” the source told Tvista.

Also Read: Bangladesh At Crossroad: Geopolitical Headwinds Coming In

Myanmar Border Guards Take Refuge

As of Wednesday, 327 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.

Fourteen of them crossed the border with bullet wounds and are being treated at different hospitals including health facilities in Rohingya camps.

BGB disarmed them and gave them shelter, said Md Shariful Islam, a spokesman for Border Guard Bangladesh, in a statement. 

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.

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,” Asaduzzaman  Khan said. “But we will not allow anyone else to cross the border and enter Bangladesh.”

‘We Don’t Want War but We Are Ready’

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “We do not want to get involved in any war, but Bangladesh is ready to face any crisis.”

Bangladesh is increasing strength while the police and Coast Guard have been instructed to resist any intrusion through the borders, he added.

The minister also said that the Arakan Army is taking control over more bases of Myanmar military forces in Rakhine state. They also captured the spots along the Bangladesh border.

Bangladesh foreign ministry has continued discussion with Myanmar while the BGB has remained alert at the border, said the home minister.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) Director General AKM Nazmul Hasan has asked BGB personnel to remain alert along the border areas to face any untoward incidents.

“We’re on maximum alert along the border to prevent fresh intrusion after hearing the news of firing on the other side,” said Teknaf-2 BGB Battalion Commander Lt Col Mohiuddin Ahmed.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the February 2021 coup which killed 10-year-old experimental democracy.

Since then, pro-democracy protest erupted across the country and later the protest turned into an armed resistance.

More than 4,400 people have been killed in the junta’s crackdown and over 25,000 arrested. The United Nation assessed that more than two million people have been displaced by violence since the coup.

Bangladesh has a 271-kilometer sea and land border with Myanmar. The country is now bearing the brunt of more than 1.2 million Rohingya refugees who are in Teknaf and Ukhia, two sub districts of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, bordering Myanmar.

As the international aid flow and attention for the refugees dwindles, the Bangladesh government is in hot water to manage and feed the huge number of refugees.

Experts said that Myanmar Junta is intensifying attacks in the bordering region to force the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar to go to Bangladesh or elsewhere. As well, it hopes to incite Bangladesh into joining its war on the rebels. Which can be a blunder for Bangladesh as the nation is fighting the high inflation and political turmoil following the January 7 ‘One-Sided elections.’

Meanwhile, the Junta is filing huge landmines in bordering regions violating the international norms. Earlier, a Rohingya inside Bangladesh fell victim to the mines.

Myanmar's military may employ a strategic tactic to entangle Bangladesh in its internal conflict for some reasons. Firstly, by framing the conflict as a genuine war against Bangladesh, they aim to present a narrative distinct from a civil war or internal strife within their own borders. Secondly, portraying Bangladesh as an active participant in the war allows Myanmar to equate their actions, suggesting a shared culpability. Lastly, this maneuver could serve to irreversibly hinder the prospects of repatriating Rohingya refugees.

So, the questions loom that is the crisis will split into Bangladesh and what will be the consequences? 

Bangladesh Must Act Carefully

As the tremor of the foreign war now feels at home, Bangladesh must act carefully to prevent any short of involvement in the war.

Bangladesh should therefore make all efforts for a peaceful solution to the problem. Earlier, Bangladesh summoned Myanmar’s ambassador several times but the efforts went in vain as the military junta don’t and didn’t adhere to international rules and agreement.

Also, Bangladesh should enforce tight border security to prevent any further refugee influx from Myanmar. People from other ethnic groups in Rakhine may also enter Bangladesh under the pressure of the campaign.

It is not right for Bangladesh to get involved in the problems of Myanmar. Bangladesh says it has increased Border Guard Police (BGP) and Coast Guard deployments. But deploying the Bangladesh Army may not be a good option, especially for now.

Bangladesh must boost its efforts to internationalize the issue to find a sustainable solution.

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, of Dhaka University’s International Relations Department, said, “If Bangladesh adopts a mixed strategy of demonstration of military power and diplomacy simultaneously, the Myanmar military can’t respond easily. Thus Bangladesh needs to pursue a peaceful diplomatic approach towards Myanmar.”

The ongoing civil war in Myanmar has become a source of concern for both India and China, adding a layer of complexity to the regional dynamics. The Three Brotherhood Alliance's claim of capturing the Shan State and key towns along vital trade routes with China underscores the geopolitical implications. A notable incident on January 4, where a mortar shell from Myanmar landed in China, resulting in injuries, highlights the direct impact on neighboring nations.

Simultaneously, the unrest in India's Manipur, marked by tensions between the Meitei and Kuki communities, has roots in the migration of Kuki people from Myanmar to Manipur. This migration has reignited historical fault lines, contributing to the ongoing strife that has claimed at least 175 lives as of September 2023.

The potential spillover effects of Myanmar's civil war on Bangladesh and neighboring countries cannot be overlooked. While China has taken proactive steps to broker a temporary ceasefire, the Myanmar military junta's trustworthiness is questionable. Accusations of breaching ceasefire conditions by rebel groups have led to the resumption of hostilities.

It is imperative for influential parties to recognize that Myanmar's military junta is a rogue entity incapable of effectively governing the country. Advocating for their stepping down is crucial to pave the way for the restoration of democracy—a desire and right held by the majority of Myanmar's population.

A Plea for Peace

Foreign Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud on January 5 hoped that there would be no further mortar shells from Myanmar landing inside Bangladesh territory amid conflicts inside Myanmar.

“There are conflicts in Myanmar. Amid those ongoing conflicts, mortar shells fell on Bangladesh territory from Myanmar. Our forces along the border remain alert,” he told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while responding to a question.

The foreign minister said the government of Bangladesh remains in touch with the Myanmar authority and hoped that it would not happen again. “We remain alert.”

On Sunday (January 4) , the foreign minister said, “Situation in Myanmar has never been good. It always fluctuates – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Myanmar is going through such a situation.”

He, however, said this current situation is an adverse one for the repatriation of the Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine.

Will Rohingyas Be Benefitted from Rebels’ Triumph in Myanmar

With escalating rebel activities, Myanmar faces prolonged instability, possibly edging towards a failed state. But experts cautious that the game is far from the end as the Junta still holds many strategic cities and areas specially in central Myanmar though the insurgencies are in an advantageous position vis-à-vis the military.

Amidst this uncertainty, the plight of over a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps raises pressing questions about their future and prospects of returning home.

New Hopes Emerging But Experts In Doubt  

On Wednesday (January 31), Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG) said it wants to repatriate the Rohingyas with full citizenship and other rights after toppling the military junta that took control of the country through a coup in 2021.

"The people of Myanmar, the revolutionary groups including the ethnic communities are more united than ever today. We will form a federal democracy," said Kyaw Zaw, spokesperson and adviser to the president of NUG.

Kyaw Zaw of the NUG, a parallel government formed by the leaders of the National League of Democracy following the military coup in 2021, said the military over the decades never wanted any genuine repatriation of the Rohingyas.

"As we return to power, we will amend all the discriminatory laws, including 1982 Citizenship Law of Myanmar, to ensure justice and rights of all Myanmar people irrespective of ethnicity and religion," Zaw said.

Asked on the differences in stances of various ethnic groups, he said the NUG will hold dialogues with all the ethnic and other groups and form the federal democracy in Myanmar.

But experts expressed caution as there are multiple players in the process.

"There is a lack of interest among the conflicting parties about repatriation, which is not a priority for them right now. Among them is the Arakan Army, which will be an important factor in the repatriation question in the future," says Shahab Enam Khan, professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University.

The professor mentions that Myanmar's National Unity Government, the government in exile formed by the lawmakers and politicians ousted in the 2021 coup, has started to recognise that Rohingyas are a part of Myanmar. He says the recognition is encouraging.

Is Rohingyas Will be Lost Generation?

Bangladesh faces heightened challenges in sheltering Rohingyas as international contributions to refugees are reduced by a third. Monthly food allocations for each Rohingya dropped from $12 to $8 due to decreased aid. In refugee camps, life is marked by prolonged uncertainty as Rohingyas hope for a safe return amidst complex Myanmar politics, especially after the coup and current turmoil. Initially anticipating a swift return, they now grapple with enduring camp conditions for an extended period. 

However, the harsh reality now confronts them as they grapple with the prospect of enduring camp conditions for an extended period, potentially spanning years or even decades. 

Parents grapple with the fear that their children might become part of a lost generation, deprived of formal education opportunities. Illicit economic activities burgeon among refugees facing financial pressures but lacking the right to formal employment. While international accountability remains imperative for sustainable peace, the daily urgency faced by displaced Rohingya families, as well as those still residing in Myanmar, demands immediate and focused action.

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur


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