TWO mortar shells landing in Bangladeshi territory from Myanmar, where heavy fighting between the Rakhine Army and Burmese Army has been reported, threaten Bangladesh’s sovereignty and bilateral relations between the two countries. The incident bodes ill not only for Bangladesh and Myanmar, but also for regional stability. The shells landed and remained unexploded at Naikhyangchari in Bandarban on Sunday afternoon, causing panic among residents of the Tumbru Uttar Para border area. The Bangladesh Border Guard mine clearance unit reportedly defused the shells. Such a situation has legitimately become a source of serious concern for Bangladesh which considers the incident, whether intentional or accidental, as a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh which could deteriorate relations between the two countries. Relations between the countries have already remained strained mainly due to irresolution over the safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingyas – more than a million Rohingyas have fled violence in Rakhine and entered Bangladesh over the past four decades, with more than 700,000 entries into the country in 2017 alone Repatriation efforts have failed since the two countries signed agreements, first in November 2017 and then in January 2018, mainly due to the reluctance of Burmese authorities and frightening situation in Myanmar.
While the mortar shell landing on Sunday is the recent example of Myanmar’s apparent disregard for Bangladesh’s sovereignty, its bilateral relations with Bangladesh and peace in the region, the Burmese authorities are not yet known to have acknowledged the incident and clarified their position. . Such disregard was also witnessed when Myanmar helicopters repeatedly violated Bangladeshi airspace in August-September 2017, which Bangladeshi authorities vigorously protested. However, the repetition of such incidents suggests Myanmar’s continued violation of international law. This is also contrary to good neighborly relations and could lead to unjustified situations, which are not in the interest not only of Myanmar but also of Bangladesh and other countries in the region. While a stable and peaceful neighbor is always preferred and indeed necessary for any country, an unstable Rakhine is a threat to safe and dignified Rohingya repatriation, an unstable border is a threat to the people living there. It is therefore imperative that the Bangladeshi authorities protest to their counterparts in Myanmar and demand an explanation for the mortar shell incident and ensure that such a violation never happens again, in the interests of both countries and of the region.
The Bangladeshi authorities should therefore vigorously protest the mortar shell incident to the Myanmar authorities and should also formally inform international and regional bodies of recent and past incidents of violations of international law. The government must also strengthen security measures at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border so that people living there feel safe.