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Myanmar villagers flee fresh Rakhine State fighting, enter Bangladesh

  • Published at 11:36 am February 7th, 2019
Buddists from Myanmar
Members of 38 Myanmar families are now seeking refuge in Bangladesh, after fleeing violence in Rakhine state last week Dhaka Tribune

Dhaka hardens stance on allowing fresh refugees, Foreign Minister Momen seeks New Delhi’s support for Rohingya repatriation during his meeting with Indian PM Modi

Scores of ethnic minority villagers have crossed from western Myanmar into Bangladesh in recent days amid fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Rakhine rebels, Reuters news agency reported quoting an official of the Border Guards Bangladesh.

Members of 38 families said they fled their homes fearing attack from military helicopters, said Col Zahirul Haque Khan, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) commander in the Bandarban district where the group of 136 people are now living in shelters.

Quoting local and community leaders in Bandarban, Dhaka Tribune’s Bandarban correspondent S Bashu Das reported that more than 200 Myanmar nationals have entered into Bangladesh through the Remakree Prangsha border in the Ruma upazila of the district in the last five days.

They entered the Bangladesh territory on Tuesday after staying inside tents in the no-man’s land, along the Chaikkhong border since Saturday.

What’s going on in Rakhine state?

Clashes between Myanmar's military and the insurgent Arakan Army, which mainly recruits from the Rakhine ethnic group, have displaced more than 5,000 people in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since early December.

Myanmar authorities have vowed to crush the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy for the Rakhine State, and blocked most aid agencies from reaching the area, raising fears of more civilian suffering in an area long scarred by complex ethnic divisions.

While Rakhine State is majority Buddhist, in 2017 attacks on security posts allegedly by insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority provoked a military crackdown that forced 730,000 people from their homes and into camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, according to UN agencies.

Win Thein, a member of the charity Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, said he had visited the refugees, who are members of the Khumi, Cho and Rakhine ethnic groups, in their remote jungle camp.

They had crossed into Bangladesh on Sunday and Monday after fleeing from two villages in the Chin state's rugged Paletwa township after they heard gunfire and saw helicopters nearby, he said.

Also Read- 203 Buddhists from Rakhine entered Bangladesh in last 5 days

Some villagers said they later witnessed Myanmar soldiers looting and setting fire to homes, he said.

Reuters reached out to two spokesmen for the Myanmar military and the government's main spokesman, Zaw Htay, but they did not pick up phone calls seeking comment.

Win Thein said some of the refugee children were seriously ill and had no access to medical care.

"There are no blankets at all and it is very cold," he said.

Bangladesh summoned Myanmar's ambassador on Tuesday to protest over the new arrivals.

Brigadier General Sazedur Rahman, a BGB regional commander, said Bangladesh beefed up security near the border to prevent more refugee arrivals.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Cox's Bazar was trying to gather more information about the new arrivals, said spokesman Firas Al-Khateeb.

"We'll coordinate with the government so we will be able to help them as soon as possible," he said.

Meanwhile, security and patrolling has been increased in the Ruma-Myanmar border region due to recent influx of Myanmar nationals, reports S Bashu Das from Bandarban.

Dhaka won’t welcome fresh refugees

Amidst reports of many fleeing people from Rakhine attempting to enter Bangladesh to escape persecution, Dhaka has all but sealed-off its border with Myanmar to stop further influx, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said on Wednesday.

He also said that Bangladesh would not accept anyone any further and it is now time for other countries to open their border as Dhaka kept its frontier open as long as it could.

When asked what the government would do if requests to open the border come, Momen said: “We kept our border open for many people. Now, other countries must open their border, not us.”

Momen seeks Modi’s support for Rohingya repatriation

On the first day of his maiden three-day trip to India after taking oath, Foreign Minister Momen has approached Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his government’s support for the early repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, who had to taken shelter in Bangladesh.    

Bangladesh’s top diplomat also thanked Modi for India's continuing humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas.

In reply, the Indian head of the government reiterated that India is always with Bangladesh and assured of India’s cooperation in this regard.

Our Special Correspondent Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan and Bandarban correspondent S Bashu Das contributed to this report

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