Myanmar conduct barely improves

Myanmar conduct barely improves

During the last few months, Myanmar has been violating Bangladesh's airspace to decimate rebel groups based near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Last month alone, there were five such violations reported. On Sept 16, it was reported a young Rohingya died in shelling, with four Bangladeshi nationals injured.

Early this month, it was reported on the much-quoted Irrawaddy website that a Rohingya man was killed and another man injured when a landmine exploded on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border adjacent to Bandarban district, Bangladesh. Indeed, there have been reports that since 2017, Myanmar has been laying landmines across a section of its border with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is handling the matter patiently and carefully in response to Myanmar's persistent wrongdoing while taking into account the sensitivity of the border region.

On Sept 20, the ambassador of Bangladesh was contacted by the Myanmar Foreign Ministry, which blamed the attacks on the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The ministry has also asserted in the past that Bangladesh is home to AA and ARSA militants.

It appears that Myanmar's excuse is to resort to the "blame game." While Myanmar has used military helicopters to violate Bangladesh's airspace, there is no report that AA nor ARSA has deployed heavy artillery in resistance. Furthermore, it raises questions about the assertion that the AA and ARSA are present in Bangladesh. The region is familiar with Bangladesh's counterterrorism and counterinsurgency measures.

Bangladesh has been steadfast in using diplomatic channels as a means to apply pressure on Myanmar at a regional and global level.

The matter was also raised by Bangladesh at the recent United Nations General Assembly and the Bangladesh government has regularly updated Asean representatives on developments, not to mention raised concerns with Myanmar's embassy -- four times since August.

With the upcoming Asean meeting approaching in November, Dhaka is reaching out to Asean, of which Myanmar is one of the bloc's 10 members, to help resolve the problem.

Asean is trying to help restore peace in Myanmar, and has gradually piled up pressure on the junta.

Since the February 2021 coup, Asean has not extended an invitation to Myanmar's top leaders to attend Asean meetings -- a move that signals the bloc can cold shoulder members, while Malaysia in May held talks with the National Unity Government (NUG).

Asean could be helpful in reducing Myanmar's border transgressions. Not only has Bangladesh been affected, but Thailand, another Asean member, has also witnessed Myanmar's disregard for national boundaries.

Myanmar violated Thai airspace a few months ago too. Internal conflicts in Myanmar are a major cause of refugees, illicit migrants as well as human, narcotics and arms trafficking along the lengthy and porous Thai-Myanmar border.

Bangladesh has experienced similar problems. Since the Rohingya crisis of 2017 began, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and other villagers in Rakhine have been uprooted by the Myanmar government's military crackdown.

Most of them crossed the border into Bangladesh or even India.

In Mizoram, India, 589 Rohingya have sought refuge.

The last thing Bangladesh wants is the fighting to lead to another surge of Rohingya refugees.

Since Asean unites Myanmar and its Southeast Asian neighbours, it may exert significant pressure on Myanmar to stop, unless border stability in this region backslides. It needs to be said that Bangladesh also has strong ties with Asean. The Dhaka government has the potential to join as an observer.

This year, Bangladesh police have been granted observer status by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations National Police (Aseanpol).

Asean must not forget that the Rakhine war zone is part of the Asean neighbourhood.

The region may become even more unstable as a result of additional waves of refugees and human rights abuses.

Tension along the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh is an early red flag that could turn into a regional crisis if the world does not come to help.

Asean should take the bold initiative of resolving the Rakhine dispute and put more pressure on Myanmar for the sake of peace and stability in the region. After all, this is Asean's purpose.

Samina Akhter is a Dhaka-based freelance writer and women's and human rights activist at Bangladesh Mohila odhikar Parishad, a human rights civic group.

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