Hundreds of people were waiting to enter Bangladesh from Myanmar, a small group of newly arrived Rohingya told BenarNews, amid fierce fighting close to the border that sparked diplomatic protests over reports of artillery and mortar shells landing on the border. territory of Bangladesh.
One of the new arrivals said he saw “several hundred” people congregating along a river separating the Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh from Rakhine state in Myanmar, trying to cross the border several days ago. It was not immediately clear what happened to those other people who had apparently been displaced by fierce clashes in recent weeks between Burmese junta forces and rebels from the Arakan Army (AA).
In Bangladesh, where the government has tightened security along the border amid the violence in Rakhine, authorities have confirmed no reports of new refugees or influx into Cox’s Bazar.
Meanwhile, a Rohingya leader said at least five Rohingya fleeing Myanmar had arrived at a camp in Cox’s Bazar in recent days.
“Two Rohingya families of five people, including two babies, have sought shelter in the Lambasia camp in Ukhia,” Muhammed Jubair, secretary general of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), told BenarNews.
The adults were identified as Abul Wafa, his wife, Minara, and another woman, Dildar Begum.
Wafa said they had fled Buthidaung in Myanmar on September 6 when the junta and the air force clashed.
“The junta started torturing the Rohingya in Buthidaung,” he told BenarNews. “That’s why we came to Bangladesh to save our lives, but we’re also hiding here.”
“As we drove into Bangladesh, we saw hundreds of Rohingyas, mostly women and children, waiting to leave near the Naf River,” Wafa said.
Two days earlier, on Sept. 4, the State Department issued a press release expressing “deep concern” over mortars reportedly landed on the Bangladeshi side of the border the day before. The release noted that Myanmar Ambassador U Aung Kyaw Moe was subpoenaed in relation to the incident, just as he had been subpoenaed on August 21 and 28.
“At the meeting, the ambassador was also told that such activities pose a serious threat to the safety and security of the peace-loving people, violate the Bangladesh-Myanmar border agreement and violate good neighborly relations,” the ministry said. .
Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said on Tuesday that he expects the shooting in Myanmar along the border to end soon.
“We heard that a group called Arakan Army was fighting with the government forces in Myanmar. When the government forces attack the Arakan army, grenades fall on our territory,” he told reporters.
“Our Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have strongly protested the incidents by calling the Ambassador of Myanmar.”
Accounts of refugees
Jubair said that after arriving in Bangladesh, Wafa and the others sought shelter with a relative before moving to another camp.
Wafa said his group gave a skipper a gold jewel to carry them across the Naf River because they had no money to pay him.
Dildar Begum, 22, said her husband, Syed Ullah, was killed by the “Mogh army” a month ago. She was referring to the Arakan army, although ‘Mogh’ is a term that Rohingya also often uses to refer to the Burmese army.
“I fled to Bangladesh with Wafa’s family because there was no other option for me,” she told BenarNews.
In Rakhine state, an AA rebel official denied that the group was targeting members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.
“The allegations against the AA targeting Muslims are not only false but also unfounded because of the fighting.” [in the state between Arakan Army and junta troops] has been more than a month,” Khine Thu Kha, a spokesman for the rebel group, told RFA Burmese.
“We want to ask back, have you seen or heard of a report of a Muslim killed or injured in the fighting? Have you heard a report or seen someone say that an AA grenade or bullet has so far fallen in a Muslim village? Otherwise, it’s just an accusation with other intent to discredit our organization.”
Despite the Rohingya’s claims, Md. Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh’s Commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation, said there was no official information about any new arrivals from Rakhine State entering the territory of Bangladesh.
“Clashes are taking place between two groups in Myanmar. It is quite normal that it will cause some tension on our border as a neighbor,” he told BenarNews. “Our decision is very clear: we cannot allow even a single Rohingya to enter Bangladesh.”
Robiul Islam, additional police inspector, said his unit was “unsure of a new Rohingya entry, but we are investigating the matter.”
Sheikh Khalid Mohammad Iftekhar, a senior official with the Bangladesh Border Guard, said border police had tightened security at the border to prevent attempts by refugees to enter the country. From January to June, according to the BGB, 478 Rohingya were refused entry and four were arrested.
Hope for repatriation
A Rohingya who lives in Maungdaw, Myanmar and declined to be named for security reasons, said the increasing conflict in the state had dampened hopes for the Rohingya’s repatriation.
“It will be difficult for them to return to this situation. The current situation does not allow them to come here,” the resident told RFA.
“The situation here is not so good. There is no security. People are fleeing here to other areas because there is fighting. They can’t come back in this situation.”
Fighting between the army and the AA resumed in July. Oo Maung Ohn, a resident of Maungdaw Township, blamed the resurgence in Rakhine state after a nearly two-year ceasefire for the junta.
“Do you know why all these fights have resumed? They (the junta) closed the roads and started fighting and they arrested many innocent people,” he told RFA. “They arrested village officials, interrogated them and beat them.”
Rakhine State Attorney General Hla Thein, a spokesman for the junta, did not immediately respond to requests from the RFA for comment.
Regional army chief visits camps
Meanwhile, top military officers from 24 countries, including the United States, China and India, who attended a conference in Dhaka, took a trip on Tuesday to visit the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The delegation, including the army chief of Bangladesh, General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed and General Charles A. Flynn, the US military chief in the Indo-Pacific, spoke with Rohingya leaders in the camps. The US military has not immediately released details of those talks.
Speaking at the keynote address on Monday’s first day of the conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that the prolonged residence of more than 1 million Rohingya in the overcrowded camps of Cox’s Bazar had become a serious security and stability problem.
Most of those refugees, about 740,000, fled Rakhine state five years ago during a government crackdown in Myanmar. Within months, officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to repatriate the Rohingya, but none of them have returned to their home countries under the program.
Ahammad Foyez in Dhaka and RFA Burmese contributed to this report by BenarNews, an RFA affiliated news service.