Bangladesh is to evacuate hundreds of villagers from risky border areas amid ongoing conflict between the military and Arakan Army rebels in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, a security official said.
“The local administration has been advised by the Border Guard Bangladesh [BGB] to temporarily evacuate the Bangladeshi nationals living near that part of the border, considering the security issue," BGB’s Director of Operations Lt. Col. Faizur Rahman told UCA News.
Rahman said the steps have been taken to ensure the safety of people in the context of ongoing clashes between the Myanmar military and rebels just across the border.
The official said the fighting has prompted Bangladesh to increase security and surveillance in recent weeks.
“Due to the situation arising along the Myanmar border, the number of BGB personnel deployed there has been increased as well as intelligence and patrolling activities," said Rahman.
The official didn’t provide the number of people being moved, but local media reported that about 370 families were to be evacuated in Tombru and Ghumdhum border areas.
The reactions in Bangladesh come amid weeks of intense fighting in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, the home of Buddhist Rakhine and minority Muslim Rohingya.
Bangladeshi media reported earlier this month that Myanmar fighter jets violated the country’s air space on several occasions and the military fired mortal shells that fell on Bangladesh’s side.
In response, Bangladesh summoned Myanmar's envoy to protest against the military actions.
On Sept. 16, mortar shells hit and killed a Rohingya refugee and injured at least five in a makeshift refugee camp at Zero Line of the Tumbru border of the Naikhongchhari area of Bandarban district. The dead Rohingya man was identified as 18-year-old Mohammad Iqbal.
The refugee camp shelters 4,500 Rohingya refugees from 621 families who fled a military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017. They are among more than 750,000 Rohingya who crossed the border into Bangladesh following the atrocities dubbed by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Pope Francis met a group of Rohingya refugees during his visit to Bangladesh in 2017 and called on the international community to assist them and find a solution to the crisis.
Catholic charities — Caritas, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), and Catholic Relief Service (CRS) — have been supporting refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar district.
Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya leader from Tombru camp said the refugees have been living in fear due to clashes.
“We are in fear because we believe the Myanmar military is targeting us. We don't know what to do now. We seek help from Bangladesh and also from the United Nations,” Dil Mohammad told UCA News.
UCA News spoke to five local villagers in Tombru and Ghumdhum areas of Bandarban who also said they have been living in fear as fighting has continued in the border zone for weeks.
They said that farmers have stopped cultivating, markets are deserted and some families have already moved from the area to stay with relatives.
Moushumi Akhter, 29, along with her husband and two children, took shelter at her cousin's home in Chittagong, about 150 kilometers from Tumbru, about a week ago.
“We heard gunshots continuously and a mortar shell fell about 200 meters from our house. We moved to Chittagong due to insecurity,” Akhter told UCA News.
Akhter says her family owns some land in Tombru where they cultivate paddy and vegetables. She said several other families have left the border area.
She said that they have left all their belongings at home, which remain unsafe.
Salma Ferdous, the head administrative officer in Naikhongchhari of Bandarban told UCA News the administration has started preparing a list of people to be evacuated, while locals have been advised to maintain a safe distance from the border.
“A committee has been formed to handle the situation. We have discussed this with the political leaders, BGB officials, and others to list families from the most vulnerable areas," she said.