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Bangladesh - Myanmar Relations

Bangladesh is surrounded by India to the west, north and northeast, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south. Bangladesh-Myanmar shares a common border of 271 kilometers. But for Bangladesh, Myanmar relations things developed differently as apart from India, Myanmar is Bangladesh's only other bordering neighbour. Geography apart, Bangladesh has historic ties with Myanmar and has many things in common, including colonial legacy.

Bangladesh-Myanmar official relations started off following Myanmar's recognition to Bangladesh on 13 January 1972. I shall like to underline that Myanmar was one of the first few countries in the world to accord recognition to Bangladesh. As early as in May 1972, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Abdus Samad Azad, visited Myanmar. That was the first official visit by the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh to any country after India. Following the visit a joint communiqu?as issued simultaneously from Bangladesh and Myanmar, emphasizing closer ties and development of bilateral relations on the basis of peaceful co-existence, non-alignment and mutual respect for sovereignty and national dignity. These still remain the basis of Bangladesh-Myanmar ties.

Between 1972 and 1985, the two countries signed three important agreements. These were: (i) General Trade Agreement (3 August, 1973), (ii) Repatriation of Refugee Agreement (1978), and (iii) Land Boundary Agreement (1979). These agreements were milestones for the relations between the two countries. Since then many top-level visits took place from both sides to strengthen Bangladesh-Myanmar ties.

On 1 June 1989 three more MOUs were signed on border trade and economic cooperation providing for joint ventures at the government-to-government, government-to-private, and private-to-private levels and also on cooperation between private sectors like FBCCI and UMCCI. Premised upon these, the border trade protocol was signed on 18 May 1994. But, border trade formally began on 5 September 1995.

Although the potentials for cooperation between Bangladesh and Myanmar are significant, the focus is on border trade. However, the important elements of infrastructure and administrative machinery which are being set up in place will greatly encourage enhanced trade not only across Teknaf and Maungdaw, but also through coastal shipping and other channels. Bangladesh Trade fairs and exhibitions in Yangon in 1995 and 1996 helped a great deal in creating demand for products from Bangladesh. In March 2003, three Agreements, namely, Coastal Shipping, Trade Account and Joint Business Council, were concluded. In the same year, the second Bangladesh Trade Fair took place in Myanmar.

Myanmar exports to Bangladesh such items as marine products, beans and pulses, and kitchen crops, while it imports from Bangladesh pharmaceuticals, ceramic, cotton fabric, raw jute, kitchenware, and cosmetic. Reportedly, bilateral trade between Myanmar and Bangladesh stood at US$ 140 million in 2008, which the two countries would try to take to 500 million dollars in the fiscal year 2009-2010.

Myanmar has vast potential for hydroelectric power production. To meet its increasing demand for electricity, Bangladesh requested Myanmar to allow the setting up of Hydro-Electric Power Project at any location among Saingdin, Lemro, or Mi Chaung. Myanmar, however, informed in 2009 that they had already leased two probable locations to a local company to generate power on Saingdin and Lemro river and in case of any surplus of production of electricity after meeting the requirement of the Rakhine State, they would consider exporting to Bangladesh. A private company named Shwe Taung development co. Ltd has shown interest to set up a hydroelectric power plant in Rakhine State with a production capacity of 500 megawatts and export electricity to Bangladesh.

An Agreement on Direct Road Link between Bangladesh and Myanmar was signed on 27 July 2007 in Dhaka. According to the Agreement, Bangladesh would finance construction of approximately 23 KM of the road between Taungbro and Bawlibazar in Myanmar including bridges and culverts. The engineering Corps of the armies of both the countries would jointly implement the construction. It has been noticed that the construction of the said road will be extremely expensive involving building of huge number of tunnels and bridges through rough hilly terrain. In addition, Bangladesh submitted another proposal to the Myanmar authority to consider Teknaf-Maungdaw-Sittwelink road as the alternative route on the plain land across the coast of Bay of Bengal.

The tri-nation direct road Link among Bangladesh, Myanmar and China is an extension of the highway from Cox's Bazar to Bawlibazar up to Kunming of China, which would contribute significantly to enhance the economic activities among the three countries.

Bangladesh government is also interested in setting up a railway network between Kunming city in Yunnan province and Chittagong via Myanmar. Furthermore, Bangladesh has shown its recent renewed interest in the proposed Trans-Asian Railway (TAR), a project of UNESCAP. Once materialized, it will link Bangladesh, among others, with six East Asian countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore as well as European countries through Turkey. It needs mentioning that as part of TAR agreement that Bangladesh signed on 10 November 2007, a 130-km-railway-track will be laid from Dohazari of Bangladesh to Gundum in the Arakan state of Myanmar via Ramu in Cox's Bazaar. The TAR and the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) will promote Bangladesh's economic interests to ASEAN and beyond.

In 2009 Myanmar authority suddenly started erecting barbed wire fencing along Bangladesh and Myanmar border, mostly along side the Naaf River. The Myanmar Authorities stated that the intention of undertaking of the project by their government was to contain terrorist activities, curb smuggling and drug trafficking etc. across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area. According to the Agreement concluded between the then Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the Demarcation of the Land Section of the Boundary North of the Naaf River on 12 November 1998 in Yangon, both the contracting parties can erect such type of fencing 150 feet away from the zero line. Bangladesh-Myanmar shares a common border of 271 kilometers and they planned to erect fences for 64 km. only.

On 14 March 2012 the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea rendered its judgment in the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar). In its judgment, the Tribunal had to address a number of issues raised by the Parties. Those included: the claim made by Bangladesh that the delimitation of the territorial sea had already been agreed by the Parties in 1974; and the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf within 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. In addition, the Tribunal had to deal with the request of Bangladesh that the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles limit be delimited, a request which was opposed by Myanmar. The Tribunal then had to decide whether it could and should exercise its jurisdiction in respect of the delimitation of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical limits. The Tribunal found in favor of Bangladesh.

Bi-lateral talks between Bangledesh and Myanmar were held on 06 December 2011. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, met with U Thein Sein, the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The two reaffirmed their satisfaction at the excellent relations that have developed over the years based on geographic proximity, rich historic and cultural traditions, people-to-people interactions as well as common aspiration for development. They expressed happiness that Bangladesh-Myanmar friendship is growing stronger and emphasized on the need to further accelerate the relations in the best interest of the two peoples.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh raised the issue of Myanmar refugees living in Nayapara and Kutupalong camp and the huge number of undocumented Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh and stated that early resolution of the issue will help strengthen bilateral relations to a great extent. The President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar expressed his desire to cooperate with Bangladesh in resolving the issue.

Repatriation of Myanmar Refugees is a three-decade-old crisis. The Rohingya people are of Muslim descent and are native to the northern Arakan region of Burma, which borders Bangledesh. The name Rohingya originates from the name "Rohang" or "Rohan" given to the Arakan region during the ninth and tenth centuries. Another group, the Rakhine people, reside in the same area of Burma and are the ethnic majority, with a Hindu and Mongol background. The Rohingyas have suffered a history of abuse, and since World War II have been fighting for recognition as a distinct ethnic group as well as an independent state. The Rohingya were excluded from the country's 1982 citizenship law and continue to suffer persecution, including forced labor, confiscation of property, rape and other forms of violence. An attempt was made to solve the Rohingya problem through diplomatic channel under an agreement signed on 09 July 1978. Some headway was achieved and a temporary solution to the problem had been reached. During 1991-1992, a second influx occurred and about 300,000 Rohingas illegally entered into our country. Bangladesh Government had to take measures on humanitarian ground to provide these refugees with temporary shelter, food and medical services. UNHCR was called in for help. Bilateral meeting was held between the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh and Myanmar in Dhaka in April 1992, and an MOU was signed on 28 April 1992 to resolve the issue. However, Bangladesh government, with the help of UNHCR, had been able to repatriate about 236,600 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.

By 2011, approximately stateless 750,000 Rohingya remained in Burma, and an estimated three million Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region. Although some have been recognized as refugees, many others lack documentation and are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, deportation back to Burma, trafficking in persons, and other abuses. Approximately 28,000 Burmese Rohingya are registered as living in two official refugee camps in Bangladesh, and more than 200,000 unregistered Rohingya live in surrounding towns and villages outside of the two camps.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2012 15:25:43 ZULU