As Myanmar’s civil war intensifies, Bangladesh is feeling the heat of the conflicts. The Bangladeshi residents near the border are living in fear of crossfire as mortar shells, and bullets come from Myanmar.
The Myanmar military is facing strong resistance from ethnic armed groups, such as the Arakan Army (AA) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), especially in the Rakhine state. The fighting has intensified in recent days, killing at least two people and injuring a child on the Bangladeshi side of the border.
You can also read: Rohingya Repatriation: Still a Far Cry
International media reports suggested several more insurgent groups, some forming alliances among them, are confronting the army in several parts of Myanmar.
Many Bangladeshi residents have fled their homes to avoid the crossfire. At least five schools and a madrasha have been closed to prevent any casualties. To avoid any further spillover of the war, Bangladesh remains high-alert on the border and beef up security to prevent another possible influx of Rohingya refugees.
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.
‘Situation Fully Under Control’
Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said that the border’s security has been reinforced due to the challenges arising from the internal conflict in Myanmar.
The BGB Director General Major General Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Siddiqui said on Wednesday that the Bangladesh security forces have the Myanmar border situation under control.
He made this statement during his visit to the border in Cox’s Bazar, where he inspected the outposts at Tambru and Ghumdum areas in the Naikhongchhari upazila.
Major General Siddiqui said that the BGB is ready to deal with any border-related incidents and uphold the security and sovereignty of Bangladesh. He also said that the BGB follows humanitarian principles and promotes positive international relations.
He said, “The border situation is fully under control, and we are dedicated to managing it with patience, humanitarian considerations, and in a manner that respects our international obligations. Any illegal entry into Bangladesh under any circumstances will not be permitted.” He also assessed the operational conditions and morale of the BGB personnel stationed along the border.
No Generosity this Time
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said on Wednesday that Bangladesh will not accept any more Rohingyas. He said that the Rohingyas are a burden for Bangladesh and the international aid for them has dwindled.
“Earlier, we opened the border out of generosity. Now there is no chance to show that generosity. They have become a burden for us,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, 330 Myanmar citizens have crossed the border into Bangladesh in the last five days. They include members of Myanmar’s border police, army, customs, and civilians who are seeking shelter from the conflict.
However, Bangladesh has also sent back two Rohingyas to Myanmar on Thursday (8 February), indicating that it is not willing to accept more refugees. Bangladesh has already hosted over a million Rohingyas who fled from the persecution in Rakhine since 2017, but the current crisis is not related to the Rohingyas.
Challenges for Bangladesh
The civil war in Myanmar has become a people’s war, as the ethnic armed groups are supported by the masses. As the war intensifies, Bangladesh may face an influx of refugees and a security threat from the Arakan Army, a non-state party that controls parts of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
Bangladesh also faces difficulties in repatriating the Rohingyas, who have been living in Bangladesh since 2017. The Myanmar military, which still influences the Buddhist communities, is not keen on taking them back. Bangladesh needs to change its repatriation diplomacy and engage with the new actors informally.
“Bangladesh has been stuck in a complex situation since the beginning of the Rohingya crisis because repatriation efforts were met with a weak response. Now Bangladesh’s response process should be aggressive. Measuring the potential of the new actors in crisis minimization needs to be discussed,” said Shahab Enam Khan is a professor at the Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University
Bangladesh should also counter the Myanmar military’s strategy of creating tension along the border, which affects the neighboring countries. Bangladesh should protect its sovereignty and security from the Myanmar conflict.
Border Trade Halts
The Teknaf land port, which handles trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar, has been closed due to the ongoing conflict. The port imports ginger, garlic, onions, fish, wood, coconuts, and other products from Myanmar, and exports potatoes, toys, garments, medicine, and food items to Myanmar. The import and export volumes are as follows:
Bangladesh has an annual demand for 450,000 tonnes of ginger but produces less than 200,000 tonnes. Most of the ginger is imported from Myanmar, which supplied 80,218 tonnes of ginger and 600 tonnes of garlic in the first 11 months of FY23. The domestic and imported ginger prices are Tk250-280 and Tk250 respectively, and have not changed much in the last month.
Many importers have paid for the goods but cannot receive them due to the instability in Myanmar. The cross-border trade is important for the supply and price stability of ginger in the local market.
In conclusion, the escalating civil war in Myanmar is significantly impacting Bangladesh, particularly along the border regions where residents live in fear of crossfire and mortar shells from Myanmar. The intensified fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups has led to casualties on the Bangladeshi side and prompted heightened security measures. While Bangladesh asserts control over its border security, challenges persist, including potential refugee influxes and disruptions to border trade, as evidenced by the closure of the Teknaf land port. Bangladesh faces complex diplomatic and security challenges as it navigates the ramifications of the conflict in Myanmar while safeguarding its sovereignty and managing its economic interests.