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Dealing with fallouts from Myanmar civil war

Syed Fattahul Alim | February 12, 2024 00:00:00

The fear that the fallouts from the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military junta and the People's Defence Forces (PDFs), an umbrella organisation of the resistance movements by different ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) of Myanmar might spill over into Bangladesh, has finally come true. Intense exchanges of fire were reported to have erupted between one of the EAOs, the Arakan Army (AA), and the junta forces on the other side of the border of Howikang union of Teknaf upazila in Cox's Bazar district on last Thursday, February 8, which continued till morning the next day. Incidents of heavy firings close to border areas of Bandarban and Cox's Bazar districts along with stray mortar shells and bullets falling inside Bangladesh killing people and causing panic among villagers living in the bordering areas have been going on since long. But the recent developments mark quite a shift in balance of power between Myanmar junta forces and the EAOs of that country. Recently, hundreds of Myanmar defence personnel have crossed into Bangladesh. They are under the custody of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB). A spokesperson of Bangladesh's foreign ministry has said the members of Myanmar defence personnel now under the custody of Bangladesh would soon be handed over to the Myanmar authorities. But questions remain. The crisis brewing along the international border between Bangladesh and Myanmar has its international dimension, too. As it is not a normal, peacetime situation, the fallouts from the continuing civil war in Myanmar, especially the problems arising out of people, both armed and unarmed, fleeing their country and crossing into Bangladesh may not entirely be an issue to be resolved bilaterally between the governments in Naypyidaw and Dhaka. In fact, there should be the scope of international mediation for such issues. One needs to take into consideration the fact that since February, 2021's coup d'état by the Mynamar military (Tatmadaw), the civil war that broke out in that country has been gaining ground across Myanmar. In many areas, the Tatmadaw is reportedly on retreat. A large swathe of the northern Rakhine state close to the Bangladesh's border has recently gone under the control of the so-called Arakan Army. The fate of the current regime in Naypyidaw seems to be, to all intents and purposes, hanging in the balance. In such a politically volatile situation on the other side of the border, Bangladesh needs to be extra cautious in dealing with the incumbent in Naypyidaw. After all, the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar's government in exile now fighting against the Myanmar's military junta is watching Bangladesh's role in relation to its civil war.

True, Bangladesh believes in non-interference in the internal affairs of a third country including its next-door neighbours. Having said that, Bangladesh cannot also forget about the fact that more than a million Rohingya people brutally uprooted and driven out of their ancestral abodes in the Rakhine state of that country by Tamadaw are now living as refugees in Bangladesh and awaiting repatriation in that country. Unfortunately, the incumbent Myanmar junta consistently failed to prove their sincerity as no talks held or deals reached bilaterally so far did bear fruit. As a result, the fate of the Rohingya refugees' repatriation has become uncertain. The international community supporting the displaced Rohingya people in Bangladesh also appears to be losing interest in continuing with their financial support for the hapless refugees. All the uncertainties regarding repatriation of the Rohingya are due to the insincerity and intransigence of the incumbent Myanmar military junta. This is obviously not a good-neighbourly attitude on the part of the Myanmar authorities towards Bangladesh. So, the rationale behind dealing with the spillovers of Myanmar conflicts into Bangladesh bilaterally hardly stand to reason. In that case, to be on the safe side, the government should advisably work with the UN and its relevant agencies to handle the issues emerging from the civil war in Myanmar and affecting Bangladesh both from the humanitarian and security perspectives.

At this point, there is yet another aspect of the fallouts from the Myanmar civil war. Bangladesh's other next-door neighbour, India, which has also common international border with Myanmar and is learnt to have been, like Bangladesh, dealing with similar incidents of cross-border infiltrations by both civilian and armed personnel from Myanmar. China, also a neighbour of Bangladesh, though not a next-door one, has reportedly been facing similar problems along its common border with Myanmar. But the stakes of these countries relating to Myanmar civil war and its outgrowth are not similar to those of Bangladesh. So are not the approaches to handle the emerging issues. In this situation, Bangladesh can and should share one another's experiences. But when it comes to taking decisions on these issues, Bangladesh should be on its own in line with international conventions, especially with the support of the UN. In all the dealings whether with the neighbours or the international community, the core concern should be the safe repatriation of the Rohingya to their homeland with dignity and all their rights restored. Any hasty decision would not be well-advised in this case, which may ultimately prove counterproductive.

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