Border guards who fled Myanmar tell of losing contact with commanders

Over 300 who crossed into Bangladesh have asked for assistance in returning to their homes.
Sharif Khiam and Abdur Rahman
2024.02.09
Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Border guards who fled Myanmar tell of losing contact with commanders Bangladeshis deliver an injured Rohingya who tried to cross the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh to members of the Border Guard Bangladesh in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 6, 2024.
Abdur Rahman/BenarNews

Myanmar border guards and soldiers fled into Bangladesh earlier this week after losing contact with their commanders during fierce fighting in Rakhine state, an interpreter present during their conversation with Bangladesh officials told BenarNews on Friday.

Many of these Burmese members of the junta-affiliated border police and army who have been sheltering with the Border Guard Bangladesh said they wished to return to their homes, according to an interpreter who spoke to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news outlet, near the BGB outpost in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.

As many as 330 members of the Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) and soldiers crossed the border after abandoning their posts in Rakhine, next door in Myanmar, amid fierce fighting with Arakan Army rebels, who have been making advances in gaining control of territory in battles with junta forces. 

The BGP members told the interpreter, Mohammad Saiful Islam, that they were attacked around 4 a.m. on Feb. 4. They fought back before fleeing on Feb. 6.

“They said the Arakan Army encircled from three sides and launched attacks on them. Before the attack, the Arakan Army severed all means of communication with their senior officials,” Saiful Alam told BenarNews. “But they continued their resistance for two days. Ten of their members died while the Arakan Army lost at least 20 of their members. 

“They had no way to contact their commanding officers to get instructions.”

As the fighting crept closer to the border this week, at least three civilians on the Bangladesh side were reported killed by artillery and gunfire from the fighting.

Saiful Islam said he talked to 17 army officers linked to Myanmar’s border guard along with 147 BGP members who fled from the Rakhine state. They told him they crossed into Bangladesh to survive. 

“‘If we proceeded in other directions, they would apprehend and kill us,’” he quoted an unnamed soldier as saying. 

Saiful Islam said BGB leaders gave him questions to ask the Myanmar forces, adding most were reluctant to provide any details. They were more interested in asking about how they would be returned to Myanmar.

“The common answer I get from them is ‘we came under attack and we fled,’” he said.

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Border Guard Bangladesh members gather in the Ukhia sub-district where they are unable to rescue victims because of ongoing shelling across the border in Myanmar, Feb. 9, 2024. [Minhaj Uddin/BenarNews]

Earlier this week, officials reported that 330 Myanmar troops crossed into Bangladesh and surrendered their weapons to the BGB.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Siddiqui, BGB’s new chief, said Bangladesh had followed international norms by allowing the Myanmar border guards and soldiers to cross into Bangladesh on humanitarian grounds. 

Bangladesh ambassador to Myanmar Md. Monowar Hossain said he spoke to a Myanmar deputy foreign minister who expressed his government’s desire for the BGP to be returned. Bangladesh agreed to repatriate them by sea.

Fight for control

Myanmar’s security forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA), founded in 2009, have been fighting for control of Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban districts.

In recent months, the AA has intensified attacks on the Myanmar military and the BGP. 

On Friday, the AA claimed it captured the final major junta territory in Mrauk U, effectively taking control of the town in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, according to Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

Previously, the AA captured two key military units in western Rakhine state, seizing control of Minbya. This came after AA rebels captured a BGP camp in Maungdaw township last weekend.

As fighting intensified between the junta forces and the Arakan Army, the civilian population of Rakhine state – including Buddhist Chakma and minority Rohingya Muslims – has been displaced. Hundreds of people have been trying to cross into Bangladesh, but the BGB was put on alert to stop any influx of Myanmar residents.

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In Dhaka, Obaidul Quader, a senior minister and spokesman for and general secretary of the ruling Awami League party, said the government would not allow people from Myanmar to take shelter in Bangladesh. 

Lt. Col. Mohiuddin Ahmed, BGB Teknaf battalion commander, said many people were trying to enter Bangladesh at different spots along the border. 

“As of today, we have apprehended 137 people who attempted to enter,” he told BenarNews on Friday.

Two days earlier, Quader told journalists that Rohingya would not be allowed to cross over from Rakhine. 

“The Rohingya people have become a big burden for Bangladesh … the international assistance has fallen. How long can we support them,” he asked.

About 1 million Rohingya live in refugee camps in and around Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar – most have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown against their stateless minority group in August 2017.

On Friday, residents of Tombru, Gundam, Teknaf and Ukhia in Bangladesh told BenarNews correspondents that the intensity of fighting near the border has been reduced.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news outlet.

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