By Abdur Rahman
More than 100 members of the Burmese junta’s border police force, including some wounded men, crossed into southeastern Bangladesh since Sunday to flee fierce fighting with Arakan Army rebels, Bangladeshi officials said Monday.
Two civilians – a Bangladeshi woman and a Rohingya refugee – meanwhile were killed Monday when a mortar shell fired from Rakhine exploded on the woman’s house in Bandarban district near where the fighting was happening.
They were the first civilians to be reported killed in Bandarban since the fighting encroached along Bangladesh’s southeastern border with Myanmar.
In Dhaka, Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud said the government was in touch with the junta in Myanmar to arrange to repatriate the members of the Burmese Border Guard Police (BGP) who, starting Sunday, had fled into Bangladesh.
At least 24 of the BGP men were sent to hospitals in neighboring Cox’s Bazar district to be treated for their wounds, officials said.
“We have been maintaining uninterrupted communication with [Myanmar], and the deputy foreign minister of Myanmar talked to our ambassador [in Myanmar] this morning. They will take their nationals back; I mean they will repatriate the BGP members who have come here,” Mahmud told reporters at the ministry on Monday.
The BGP members who fled into Bangladesh abandoned their posts as the Arakan Army insurgents closed in to capture their camp in Maungdaw township.
“There is a possibility that more BGP members would enter,” said the minister.
“We have been discussing the modalities of their return: whether they will be sent back by air or by boat.”=
The anti-junta Arakan Army seized an outpost manned by the military-affiliated BGP along western Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh on Sunday, confiscating arms and equipment, according to residents and an alliance of ethnic rebels.
The attack marked the latest blow to Myanmar’s military in Rakhine state, where the ethnic Arakan Army, or AA, ended a ceasefire in November that had been in place since the junta assumed power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat.
The AA took control of the Taung Pyo Let Yar outpost in Maungdaw township on Sunday afternoon, taking prisoners and prompting nearly scores of fighters with the Border Guard Force, to flee towards the border, the Three Brotherhood Alliance – of which the AA is a member – said in a statement.
The statement by the alliance, which also includes the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, said that AA fighters were killed in the battle, although it did not provide details of the number of casualties.
In Naikhongchhari upazila, a sub-district of Bandarban district, residents of Bangladeshi villages said they could hear gun and artillery fire from the fighting across the border, and saw at least one Burmese military helicopter launch a strike nearby.
Police identified the two victims who died in the mortar explosion as Hosne Ara, 50, a local resident, and Nobi Hossain, 65, a Rohingya laborer who was working at her house.
“Firing and shelling had intensified since the morning. Suddenly, a mortar shell landed in my sister’s house and exploded. She died,” Shah Alam, Hosne Ara’s brother, told BenarNews on Monday.
Iman Hossain, the son of the dead Rohingya laborer, said his family had received the news that his father was killed in the explosion.
“We came to Bangladesh from Myanmar to save our lives. But my father died in a Myanmar mortar shell [explosion]. What else can be more painful than this?” Nobi Hossain told BenarNews.
Shariful Islam, a spokesman for the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said the BGP members who fled into Bangladesh via the Tombru crossing had been disarmed and detained.
Residents of Tombru and four other villages in the area told BenarNews that the mortar and artillery fire was keeping them awake all night. Five local primary schools and a madrassa, an Islamic boarding school, have been closed since the fighting moved nearby, they said.
“We have seen [aircraft] of the Myanmar military. Intermittent firing has been going on. We are shifting to a safe shelter,” Momtaz Begum, a resident of Joypaitoli village in Ghundhum, told BenarNews.
On Sunday, three local residents were injured by gunfire coming from across the border, residents said.
The fighting in Rakhine has also forced hundreds of people, including Rohingya and Chakma tribespeople, to flee and many were seen on Monday attempting to enter Bangladesh.
The BGB said it did not allow them in.
“The conflict between junta forces and the Arakan Army has caused food shortages among the people living along the Myanmar border,” Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told BenarNews.
“People have been trying to enter Bangladesh,” he said.
He urged international agencies to extend support to the affected people so they don’t come into Bangladesh.
“Already we are overburdened with one million Rohingya people,” he said, referring to the Rohingya refugee population in the country.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka and RFA Burmese, part of BenarNews-affiliated Radio Free Asia, contributed to this report.