Regional peace and harmony is always required for any country to grow economically and culturally. From history, we have found that, if peace does not prevail in a region, then many countries have to face misfortune and people become the victims. The Southeast Asia region has been experiencing some sort of regional peace during last several decades though few incidents brought significant threats time to time.
Recently, Myanmar has been trying to distort regional peace by violating international rules as well as the sovereignty of Bangladesh, which is currently the temporary home of over 1 million Rohingya, who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state due to brutal ethnic cleansing. Considering the effects of COVID-19 pandemic and the current Russia-Ukraine war, any tension between Myanmar and Bangladesh will not only disturb regional peace but will damage both countries’ prospects. Hence, the leaders of both countries should opt for peaceful solutions.
For the last few days tension has been growing along the Myanmar border with Bangladesh. According to media reports, Myanmar security forces orchestrated a series of fierce attacks from fighter planes and helicopters inside Bangladesh border in Bandarban on Saturday morning. At least four Myanmar fighter aircraft reportedly crossed into Bangladesh’s air space over Naikhongchhariupazila in Bandarban Saturday morning. Media reports read that law enforcers are currently on alert after the incident. Two mortar shells landing in Bangladeshi territory from Myanmar earlier on August 28, where heavy fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military have been reported, is a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh and to bilateral relations between the two countries.
Tackling insurgency is an internal issue of Myanmar. But, Myanmar can’t violate the sovereignty of Bangladesh anyhow in the name of unintentional error. Moreover, if any country requires to conduct military operation within a close proximity of border adjacent to another country, must inform the bordering nation in advance. But Myanmar never did inform and that raises questions over their intentions. Myanmar must have respect to international law. Myanmar must respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Myanmar must remember that Bangladesh is also a militarily capable country and military engagement will not bring any good for any of the country.
Such a situation has legitimately become a cause of serious concern for Bangladesh that sees the incident, be it intentional or accidental, as a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The relation between the countries has already remained strained mainly because of the irresolution on the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas. Over a million Rohingyas fled violence in Rakhine and entered Bangladesh over the past four decades, with over 700,000 entering the country only in 2017. Repatriation efforts have faltered since the two countries signed deals, first in November 2017 and then in January 2018, mostly because of the reluctance of the Myanmar authorities and a fearful situation in Myanmar.
It is also conflicting to good neighborly relations and could lead to unwarranted situations, which are not in the interests of not only Myanmar but also Bangladesh and other regional countries. While a stable and peaceful neighbor is always preferred and, in fact, necessary for any country, an unstable Rakhine is a threat to a safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas, an unstable border is a threat to the people living there. Additionally, while tackling insurgency or conducting ethnic cleansing, pushing Myanmar citizens towards Bangladesh again and again cannot be tolerated. It is, therefore, imperative that the Bangladesh authorities protest to its Myanmar counterparts and seek explanations on different past incidents.
The Bangladesh authorities have, therefore, strongly protested the mortar shell incident to the Myanmar authorities and must also officially inform international and regional forums about the recent and earlier incidents of violation of international laws. The government increased security measures on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border so that people living there feel safe. The law enforcement agencies including Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are also on alert and intelligence surveillance has also been increased near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
On August 29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Myanmar envoy and lodged a strong protest against Myanmar’s mortar shells landing inside Bangladesh territory a day earlier. Bangladesh has lodged a strong protest with Myanmar so that such incidents do not happen again. Bangladesh has also strongly condemned the incident. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh AungKyaw Moe again on Sunday to lodge a strong protest regarding the matter.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Thursday said the government has warned Myanmar and they assured that the country will remain more careful. On Thursday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs MdShahriarAlam said Bangladesh is better prepared so that none can enter from Myanmar now due to the deteriorated situation in the Rakhine state. The Myanmar side was warned twice in August following mortar shells landing in Bangladesh territory from Myanmar and a strong protest was lodged in this regard.
Five years after Myanmar forces began a genocidal attack against Rohingya men, women and children in Rakhine State, Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, on 24 August, 2022 urged the international community to redouble its efforts to hold perpetrators accountable and deliver justice to the Rohingya inside and outside Myanmar. Bangladesh government, especially Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have urged the global leaders to increase pressure on Myanmar for peaceful repatriation of the Rohingya refuges but little efforts were seen till now.
On 25 August, Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, released a statement about the current state of the Rohingya crisis. Giving rise to hope for sharing the burden by third country resettlement of the considerable numbers of Rohingya people, he said that the US is working to significantly increase resettlement. This is a positive change for the ill-fated Rohinya refugees. We hope, the Rohingya crisis ends soon.
Though there were serious provocations from Myanmar, the visionary leadership of PM Hasina did not allow any military engagement between the two countries. When the Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh in numbers in August, 2017, the US Congress also expressed their support for Bangladesh in any sort of engagement against Myanmar. But PM Hasina calmly avoided Myanmar’s provocation as she is a farsighted leader with strong focus on her country’s progress and regional peace.
With India and China present in the region, further provocation from Myanmar may result in further engagements and the United States can also become a crucial part if force is required. Both India and China should allow Bangladesh to remain a neutral and peaceful zone to keep stability in the region. Otherwise, there will be a vacuum for the US and they have to interfere and the region will have to compromise peace, harmony and stability due to global and regional politics. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina has started her visit to India on Monday and just before her visit, Myanmar’s atrocity creates further questions over their intention to destroy peace in the region.
Myanmar must realize that, they cannot push their people repeatedly to another sovereign country. The Myanmar military junta must not treat our modesty and humanity as our weakness for the sake of their welfare at least. Hopefully, they will realize the importance of regional peace and stability. We believe, regional peace will prevail and the Southeast Asia will keep prospering.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela