Burma plays diplomatic card to diffuse Bangladesh dispute

In this file photo from 2012, members of the Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB) stand patrol the Naf River. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

A dispute between Burma and Bangladesh following a fatal armed clash at the countries’ common land border is now being resolved through diplomatic channels, according to the director of the Burmese President’s Office, Zaw Htay.

“We are continuing discussions,” he told DVB on Saturday. “This incident provides a challenge to both countries to ensure stability and peace in the border region.

On Wednesday, Burmese border guards opened fire on two men in yellow camouflage uniforms allegedly on the Burmese side of the border between boundary markers 51 and 52. One man was reportedly shot and killed while the other escaped back to Bangladeshi territory.

The Burmese claim that their border patrol opened fire on insurgents assumed to be members of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) who are known to be active in this area.

Speaking to DVB on Friday, Pol-Col Min Aung, the deputy-director of the Burmese Defence and Security Department in Naypyidaw, pointed out that the suspects were not wearing Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB) uniforms nor Bangladeshi insignia, and were therefore assumed to be insurgents.

“None of the men we encountered had insignia,” he said. “They were in yellow camouflage uniforms without armbands. If they had been BGB, they should have been wearing their insignia. They were shot at because they encroached on our territory without any identifiable insignia, leading our troops to assume they were insurgents.”

Bangladesh said its border guards were fired upon by their Burmese counterparts, and that one of their troops, Corp. Naik Md. Mizanur Rahman, remains missing.

An agreement was made for the Burmese to hand over the body of the dead man for identification on Friday at a prearranged spot at a common border post, however gunfire broke out and the handover was not completed. Both sides blame each other for the altercation.

Dhaka has since issued a letter of complaint after summoning Burmese Ambassador Myo Myint to its Foreign Affairs Ministry.

In a statement on Saturday, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had protested strongly to the Burmese ambassador over the “unprovoked eruption of gunfire” by Burmese border troops on Friday afternoon, and said it was calling for “immediate measures” to identify the dead body to ascertain whether it is Corp. Naik Md. Mizanur Rahman.

However, in its own statement on Saturday, Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “these two diplomatic notes from the Bangladesh side are totally far from the real situation on the ground.”

It maintained that Burmese troops “opened fire on two suspected armed Bengalis … who were intruding into Myanmar territory about 80 feet from the border line. The Myanmar troops neither opened fire on any BGB members nor captured a BGB corporal. It was found out that the outfit worn by the person caught dead did not match the BGB uniform.”

“Bengali” is a commonly used term in Burma for members of the Rohingya community.

Following the statement, Burmese President’s Office Director Zaw Htay told DVB: “We have strong evidence that the RSOs are conducting maneuvers and creating problems.”

While maintaining that Burma would not tolerate any incursions into its sovereign territory, Zaw Htay said that the matter would be better resolved through diplomatic means.

“It is better to resolve this dispute through border committees and government channels in a spirit of mutual understanding,” he said. “But the point is that we cannot accept any insurgent group on our land. We work with India on this issue, and I hope we can also work with Bangladesh.”

Zaw Htay maintained that Burma’s security forces had made no mistake and that they had engaged with an armed group thought to be RSO.

“Our ambassador in Bangladesh explained this to their government and provided evidence,” he said. “The fighting took place on our territory. Our security forces shot at men in guerrilla uniforms who were not sporting any insignia or arm bands. The clash occurred along a route frequently used by the RSO.”

By SHWE AUNG (DVB)

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