Myanmar wants to take back army, border guards by sea

A Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel stands behind the detained Myanmar's Border Guard Police (BGP) personnel seeking refuge at Bangladesh's Whaikhyang along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf on 7 February, 2024AFP

Myanmar is seeking to repatriate members of its Army, Border Guard Police (BGP), Police, Immigration, and other organisations who have sought refuge in Bangladesh aboard a navy ship. The process is set to commence in the next few days.

This development emerged following discussions held during an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday. Multiple sources present at the meeting confirmed this information to Prothom Alo. The issue was also raised during talks between Bangladesh's ambassador and Myanmar's foreign minister in Naypyidaw, the administrative capital of Myanmar.

The inter-ministerial meeting was attended by senior officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, along with representatives from various government intelligence agencies. Additionally, Bangladesh's ambassador to Myanmar, Monwar Hossain, participated in the meeting remotely.

According to several officials present, Bangladesh proposed the return of Myanmar nationals who sought refuge in Bandarban by air rather than via the Naf River route. However, Myanmar expressed reluctance to accept the repatriation of its citizens by air. Instead, Myanmar prefers to repatriate its people by sea in this situation.

When queried about the repatriation process through the Bay of Bengal, a senior official informed Prothom Alo that Myanmar Navy ships would enter Bangladesh's waters to retrieve their citizens. However, the necessary procedures must be completed in accordance with international regulations beforehand. It is hoped that Myanmar will repatriate its citizens very soon.

Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen informed reporters at the conclusion of the inter-ministerial meeting that the main agenda was the repatriation of 328 Myanmar citizens.

Yesterday, amid attacks by insurgent groups, including the Arakan Army, 64 Myanmar border guards, including the BGP military commander, crossed into Bangladesh through the Whykong border in Teknaf. With that a total of 328 Myanmar citizens have sought refuge in Bangladesh.

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The foreign secretary emphasised, "While initially considering air travel as our primary option for repatriation, our utmost priority remains ensuring the safest and quickest method for returning these individuals."

When asked about potential risks for Bangladesh due to the current situation in Rakhine, the foreign secretary stated that he does not perceive any direct threats. The Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) maintains maximum preparedness to safeguard Bangladesh's security and prevent any disruptions.

Myanmar has been urged to take proactive measures to prevent the Rakhine conflict from posing risks to Bangladesh, in addition to expediting the repatriation process for those who have sought refuge in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Ambassador Monwar Hossain paid a courtesy visit to Myanmar Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Than Swe in Naypyidaw Wednesday afternoon.

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When queried about the discussions held, Ambassador Monwar Hossain informed Prothom Alo over the phone from Naypyidaw in the evening, stating, "I have urged Myanmar to take measures to prevent instability in Rakhine from impacting Bangladesh, including security risks. Concerns persist regarding casualties in Bangladeshi territory due to mortar shells fired from Myanmar. Despite this, Bangladesh is acting responsibly. Myanmar needs to address this situation seriously and exercise caution. Furthermore, initiating the repatriation of Rohingyas is crucial for advancing normal relations between the two countries."

Monwar Hossain added that the Foreign Minister of Myanmar has strongly assured of considering the concerns raised by the Bangladeshi ambassador and taking necessary steps accordingly.

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat