Dhaka, Bangladesh — Mohammad Yunus, a 45-year-old resident of Ghumdhum in the hilly Bandarban district of Bangladesh along the border with Myanmar, says he hasn’t been able to sleep properly for weeks.
The reason? Weeks of relentless cross-border shooting and shelling by the Myanmar military, which experts say could be a way to push more Rohingya into Bangladesh.
“We can’t sleep at night. There are constant noises from firearms. Sometimes there are explosions,” Yunus told CNN Breaking News over the phone.
“We left home and moved in with a relative. We’re afraid for our lives,” he said.
The release from Myanmar has escalated tensions between neighbors and raised concerns about a new Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh and a reduction in the prospects of their repatriation to Myanmar.
The Bandarban government said it had begun moving around 300 families living in Ghumdhum to a safer location further inland. The no-man’s land in the border area is also home to around 4,500 Rohingya refugees.
Last Friday, a Rohingya teenager was killed and four other Bangladeshi nationals were injured when mortar shells fired from Myanmar exploded on a strip of land along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Bangladesh has the world’s largest refugee camp with almost one million mostly Muslim Rohingya, most of whom fled a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in 2017, which, according to the UN, was carried out with “genocidal intent.”
Myanmar was charged with genocide before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Myanmar’s military denies the charges.
Bangladesh is working with international organizations to bring the Rohingya back home, but the refugees have refused, citing security concerns, and remain in wicked and cramped camps.
Weeks of relentless shooting and shelling by the Myanmar military along the border with Bangladesh have now exacerbated tensions between neighbors.
According to local media reports earlier this month, more than a dozen Rohingya have entered Bangladesh amid the cross-border release and sought refuge in camps near Teknaf. Hundreds more Rohingya have gathered near the border to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh, the reports added.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister, A K Abdul Momen, said this week the government had sealed its border with Myanmar to prevent a further influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
“We won’t accept any more Rohingya people,” Momen said in a press conference on Wednesday.
While Bangladesh’s border guard force, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), has increased vigilance along the 271-kilometer (168-mile) border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, Dhaka said it did not want to engage militarily and was trying to resolve tensions through diplomatic channels.
Aung Kyaw Moe, Myanmar’s envoy to Dhaka, has been summoned four times in the same number of weeks by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, which has raised serious concerns about mortar shell attacks on its territory, indiscriminate air strikes and airspace breaches.
Moe said the releases on Bangladeshi territory were carried out by the Arakan Army, an armed group that the Myanmar military is fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.
Since the beginning of August, fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army has increased along the border.
A senior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh told Moe that grenades falling in Bangladesh were unacceptable. He said the dispute between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military was their “internal affair,” and how they decided to resolve it was “entirely up to them.”
Delwar Hossain, professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, believes that military shooting in Myanmar across the border and airspace breaches by Myanmar could be opportunities to persuade Bangladesh to engage militarily.
“It will somehow divert international attention from their internal conflicts with various ethnic minorities, which have been going on for a long time,” he told CNN Breaking News.
He said Bangladesh is on the right track so far by not falling into Myanmar’s trap.
Hossain said Myanmar could try to force another Rohingya influx into Bangladesh’s territory.
“Myanmar also wants to make things more difficult so that the repatriation of the Rohingyas can be postponed even longer. They see benefits when they can lead to unrest or military action in Bangladesh,” he said.
On Wednesday, Bangladesh’s Minister of the Interior, Asaduzzaman Khan, held a meeting with the country’s security and law enforcement agencies. He later said that the Bangladeshi army was ready to defend the country if instructed to do so.
Also on the same day, the Chief General of the Bangladeshi Army, S M Shafiuddin Ahmed, said his troops were ready to respond against Myanmar if necessary.
However, Foreign Minister Momen stressed again on Wednesday that Bangladesh had no intention of going to war with its neighbour and hoped that the situation could be resolved diplomatically.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently in the United States to attend the UN General Assembly, is expected to address the issue in a speech scheduled later on Friday.
Hasina is also expected to call on world leaders to play an active role in organizing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
Shafqat Munir, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies think tank, told CNN Breaking News that the government of Bangladesh had “taken absolutely the right steps to pursue the diplomatic approach.”
“Our aim should be to solve the problem diplomatically and through dialogue. There is no need for a military solution at this stage,” he said.
“However, we must be wary of any prospect of a renewed influx of Rohingya or other displaced Myanmar nationals. We also need to make sure that our voices are heard in the international community.”