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Commentary: Potential civil war in Myanmar - stakes are very high for Bangladesh

  • Published at 11:03 am June 22nd, 2021
Myanmar Anti-coup Protest
File photo: Demonstrators block a road during an anti-coup protest in Yangon on March 4, 2021 Reuters

Bangladesh will have to make sure that its border is strongly protected to stop insurgents and any Myanmar nationals from entering

On April 13, about two and half months after the military coup ousting the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that Myanmar was heading towards a full-blown civil war like in Syria.

Since then, the situation in Myanmar, with which Bangladesh shares a 271-kilometre border, has deteriorated significantly, causing grave concern across the world, especially its neighbours. The worsening situation prompted Bachelet to issue yet another warning on June 11 that a further escalation in violence was unfolding across Myanmar and must be halted to prevent even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency.

Military rule is nothing new to the people of Myanmar. Since its independence in 1948, the South East Asian nation was mostly under military or quasi military rule. However, things are different this time round.

People seem to have had enough of military rule. Since the military takeover on February 1, people of Myanmar have been fighting an uneven battle with the junta to restore civilian government. Around 900 people have so far died in the hands of the military junta.

The opposition platform stepped up the game by forming an alternative government—National Unity Government—to counter the military regime. They even established an armed branch named People’s Defence Force, which was described by the military junta as a terrorist outfit. It is worth noting that the Myanmar military has been fighting with the insurgents in different parts of the country.

Against the backdrop of such a confrontational scenario involving different ethnicities, the fear of a full-blown civil war is real. And, any civil war in Myanmar is very worrisome for Bangladesh for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Rohingyas, one of the most persecuted communities in the world, have always been an easy target of the Myanmar military. It is estimated that 500,000 to 600,000 Rohingyas still live in Rakhine state with severe restrictions. In case of another crackdown, the Rohingyas will have no choice but to try to cross into Bangladesh as others did on previous occasions.

Secondly, confrontations between the armed groups and the Myanmar military may lead the insurgents to take shelter in Bangladesh that could place the country in a challenging situation.

Thirdly, the long overdue repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, who had to take shelter in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar to escape the brutalities of Myanmar security forces, local Buddhist mobs and people from different groups in Rakhine, will be even more uncertain. Furthermore, there will be a risk for Bangladesh to be burdened with more displaced people.

Aside from the above mentioned challenges, the country, as a neigbour, will have to face other problems if Myanmar ends up in a civil war, a dreadful prospect for Bangladesh.

On the heels of such a grim picture, Bangladesh will certainly hope for the best, but it will have to prepare for the worst. Along with its international and regional allies, Dhaka will have to do all it can to help improve the situation in Myanmar. And, most importantly, Bangladesh will have to make sure that its border with Myanmar is strongly protected to stop the insurgents and any Myanmar nationals from entering the country.

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