Rohingya issue shouldn't be complicated further

Refugee camp at Ghumdhum, Naikhangchhari. Rohingyas would stretch their hands out for help when they saw Bengalis before. Now they don't leave their homes in fearFile Photo

For quite some days now there has been exchange of gunfire in Myanmar, along the border with Bangladesh's Naikhangchhari upazila in Bandarban district. A Rohingya living in the border area has been killed. There have been injuries too in the border-lying village areas of Bangladesh.

This sudden situation has created alarm among the hill people and Bengali people living there. This is the situation prevailing in Tambru and Ghumdhum border areas of Bangladesh.

On 4 September a Myanmar fighter jet entered Bangladesh airspace, violating international norms. There has been no justified explanation of such action on the part of Myanmar. The Bangladesh foreign ministry issued stern protests four times through the Myanmar ambassador, but it does not seem the matter had been given much attention. The counter explanation given by Myanmar is not acceptable at all.

The message given a few days ago by the military government there to Bangladesh's ambassador to Myanmar, Manjurul Karim, blames the Rakhine rebel group Arakan Army (AA) and the so-called rebel group of Rohingyas, ARSA, for their clashes with the Myanmar Army Tatmadaw.

Myanmar also blamed Bangladesh for indulging these groups. This blame is unacceptable. If the Arakan Army was firing from within Bangladesh, whose helicopters and fighter aircraft had violated the airspace? There is no logic for ARSA to keep contact with AA. Long before the so-called Rohingya organisation ARSA was formed, AA has been fighting since 2009 for the independence of the entire Arakan (Rakhine region).

It is true that the capacity of the Arakan Army's troops has increased. They are now over 30,000 in number. They are in an all-out guerilla war against the Myanmar junta government and army for the full independence of Arakan. In the first phase, AA has been battling in the once independent Arakan's capital Mrauk-U including North Rakhine, particularly in the areas along Bangladesh's border and the border of the Chin state.

They claim to have taken over many places including an army installation in Copper Bazar, south of Maungdaw, and killed 30 soldiers there. They have also captured the area between pillar no. 34 and pillar no. 40 along the Naikhangchhari border as well as a paramilitary outpost in the region. Counter attacks are being carried out regularly to recapture the areas.

Other than these areas, AA has also captured from the Myanmar army high lands in the Paletwa region, some 18 to 20 km from the Bangladesh border, south of the Chin state. The Myanmar army is using artillery in an attempt to reclaim these areas. They are even using fighter jets, as they did along Bangladesh's border. This region is under the Indian Kaladan project and AA wants to consolidate its hold here. AA's main base is here and the supply route is very convenient. The region is quite hard to access too.

In the meantime, the spokesperson of AA's political organisation United League of Arakan (ULA) on 17 September issued a statement on the firing, killing and injuring in Bangladesh. The statement mentioned the name of the persons who was killed in the 16 September firing and also the place. The statement placed the blame on the government forces, saying that the military junta was carrying out atrocities against the 'freedom fighters' of the ongoing struggle in Arakan just as they had launched the genocide against the Arakan Muslims.

In recent times, AA and ULA are showing a willingness to acknowledge Rohingyas as Arakan Muslims. This was evident in this statement too. ULA maintains that the Arakan Muslims have been tortured and evicted, and it places the blame in the Myanmar junta forces.

According to several sources, over around two years AA had increased its number of troops, training and heavy weaponry. It has taken preparation for  al-out war. That is why the air force in Myanmar is being used to resist them.

It is the responsibility of the Bangladesh government to protect the Bangladeshi citizens in the border lying areas, from the fighting between the two sides in Myanmar

As a result, helicopters and fighter aircraft have violated Bangladesh's air space. Other than in Rakhine, rebels are also battling with the junta government in Chin, Karen and Kachin regions. It seems that the Myanmar junta will soon be pitched into a civil war.

To the apparent eye, it seems that that AA or its political front ULA is gradually consolidating its hold in Rakhine or Arakan. This is reflected in the tweet of the AA political front's spokesman Kyaw Lynn, referring to the 18 September press conference. He said that the international community including Bangladesh would have to recognise ULA as the main party in resolving the ongoing (Rohingya) crisis.

That means that the ULA must be included in talks in Arakan or Rakhine aimed at resolving the Rohingya crisis. It seems that AA and ULA are ready to accept the Rohingyas as Arakan Muslims.

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of the Bangladesh government to protect the Bangladeshi citizens in the border lying areas, from the fighting between the two sides in Myanmar. Not through war or any military action, but through diplomatic efforts Myanmar must be forced to stop spreading alarm along the border and to maintain international norms along the international borders.

If diplomatic efforts fail, the Bangladesh government will have the responsibility to take any action to ensure the safety of the border and the citizens. But there can be no doubt that any military conflict there will destabilise the region. We hope for a peaceful solution to all problems. We do not want further long drawn out complications regarding the repatriation of the Rohingyas.

* Dr M Sakhawat Hossain is an election analyst, former army officer and SIPJ senior research fellow (NSU). He may be contacted at [email protected]