58 Myanmar border guards seek shelter in Bangladesh as battle rages between military, insurgents
DHAKA — At least 58 soldiers of Myanmar’s paramilitary Border Guard Police (BGP) escaping the junta-run country took shelter in Bangladesh amid reports of heavy gunfights between the government troops and the rebel resistance fighters, officials said here on Sunday.
The soldiers entered through the Tambru border in predawn hours on Sunday and sought shelter from the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB).
“Fifty-eight BGP personnel took shelter in Bangladesh throughout the day since the predawn hours. Fourteen of them crossed the border with bullet wounds and are being treated at different hospitals, including health facilities in Rohingya camps,” said an official familiar with the development.
The official, who preferred anonymity, said the paramilitary soldiers were kept under their counterpart Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) custody in southeastern Cox’s Bazar bordering Myanmar’s Rakhine state while the weapons they carried were deposited in BGB cache.
The official said many of the soldiers came to Bangladesh territory in combat uniforms and weapons while others were in their plainclothes leaving their arms back home.
“The BGB informed the development to their Myanmar counterparts,” said the official.
Dhaka, meanwhile, expressing concern over the skirmishes in its border areas with Myanmar, said the violence was affecting Bangladesh’s frontlines.
Road Transport Minister and Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader sought Chinese intervention to de-escalate the conflict given Beijing’s close contacts with Burmese authorities.
“The internal war is their (Myanmar’s) domestic concern. But when the sound of gunfights is heard at the border, naturally it creates panic in the public mind. We, therefore, expect Beijing’s intervention,” Quader told the media after he met with the Chinese envoy.
Officials earlier said 14 BGP personnel crossed the border in predawn hours through the Ghumdhum border while a BGB spokesman in Dhaka thereafter asked journalists to await a media briefing on the development.
No official briefing was however done until Sunday evening.
District administration of Bandarban, where the troubled frontier is located, closed five schools for security reasons fearing mortar shells or stray bullets will slide into the Bangladesh territory as the gunfights are underway on the other side of the border.
The BGB asked residents to stay indoors or move cautiously.
Officials said reports from the other side of the border suggested army helicopters were strafing on rebel fighters, escalating concerns of massive casualties.
Residents in frontier villages, including local Union Parishad members, said sounds of gunfights on the Myanmar side of the border on Saturday night and Sunday panicked residents in villages in the frontier.
A BSS report said the skirmishes between the government troops and the rebel Arakan Army frightened residents in several frontier Bangladesh villages as many mortar shells and bullets landed at the Bangladeshi side in the past few days though no casualty was reported so far.
“In two such latest incidents on Saturday night a bullet smashed the windshield of a battery-run three-wheeler and a mortar shell hit a village house at Tombru area of Ghumdhum but no one was wounded,” a member of the local union council, the lowest local government-tier, told reporters.
Bangladesh earlier ordered an extra security vigil on the border with Myanmar given the gunfights between the military and the insurgent Arakan Army, which is active in the bordering Rakhine region of the country.
International media reports suggested several more insurgent groups, some forming alliances among themselves, are confronting the military in several parts of Myanmar.
According to reports and analysts, the resistance movement in Myanmar gained momentum three years after a coup ended a short-lived experiment with democracy.
Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar stretches 271.0 kilometres (168.4 miles) from the tri-point with India in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south.
Bangladesh played a critical role in sheltering over a million Muslim minority Rohingyas who fled their home in Rakhine and took refuge in Bangladesh to evade persecution, particularly after a 2017 army crackdown but the current crisis has little to do with the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh won praises for the handling of the world’s biggest refugee crisis while Dhaka repeatedly sought their repatriation to their homeland in Rakhine saying the Rohingyas were causing economic, social, security and environmental problems.
The issue is now the subject of a United Nations genocide investigation at the International Court of Justice.