Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Bangladesh asks Myanmar to pull troops from border

AFP, TOMBRU, Bangladesh

Bangladesh on Thursday asked Myanmar to immediately “pull back” security forces and heavy weapons from the border after a troop buildup near a camp housing thousands of stranded Rohingya stirred tension on the troubled frontier.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs “summoned” the Burmese envoy and conveyed the nation’s “concerns” over the “military buildup” amid rising tensions following the influx of nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

The acting Bangladeshi minister of foreign affairs “conveyed to the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka that such military buildup will create confusion within Bangladesh and escalate tensions on the border,” the ministry said.

“He told the ambassador to convey to the Myanmar authorities for the immediate pullback of Myanmar security forces along with military assets from the area,” it said.

Dhaka said the troops were mobilized near a thin strip of land between the two nations where about 6,000 Rohingya have been living since fleeing Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim minority in late August last year.

They were among the first to flee Myanmar and set up their shelters in the weeks before Bangladesh agreed to let the Rohingya into the nation.

In recent weeks they have come under pressure from Burmese troops, who have stepped up patrols along the barbed-wire border fence just meters from the camp and broadcast messages using loudhailers ordering the Rohingya to leave.

Hundreds of Rohingya have since fled the camp and taken shelter in refugee settlements in Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar.

The diplomatic protest came as Bangladeshi border guards and Rohingya living in the camp said that about 100 Burmese troops arrived near the refugee camp on Thursday in heavy military vehicles.

“They brought at least 14 ladders, and intimidated us by trying to climb over the fences and come to our camp to evict us,” Rohingya leader Mohammad Arif said.

Burmese border police also increased their personnel 10-fold near the frontier, and installed heavy machine guns and mortars at bunkers they have dug, a Bangladeshi border official said.

The Bangladeshi border guards had requested a meeting with their Burmese counterparts to deescalate tensions, he said, but were told the officers were “away or busy elsewhere.”

The buildup came despite Bangladesh and Myanmar having signed a deal to repatriate about 750,000 Rohingya to Rakhine State, but the process was delayed at the last moment due to lack of preparations and protests by the refugees.

Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and has long denied them citizenship and basic rights.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affiars has “expressed the concern” that the troop buildup might “hamper [the] repatriation process which both sides agreed to implement.”

Dil Mohammad, another Rohingya leader, said Myanmar was making “absurd claims” that Rohingya militants were hiding in the border camp.

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