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Myanmar / Bangladesh Fence

Myanmar shares 200 miles of border with Bangladesh on the western frontier, along which Burma has built 40 miles of barbed-wire fence since 2009. The Burmese regime claims the fencing is in order to "ward off cross-border narcotic and human trafficking". The Burmese Army began its border fencing in early 2009 and erected concrete pillars of about 70 km of the 120 km along Naf 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.

The exact course of the fence is unclear, and there do not appear to be any maps of the fence online. But the description of the extent of the fence, between 64 km and 70 km in length, suggests that it would run the entire distance from the coast, along the course of the Naf River, and thence inland to the mountainous region that forms the bulk of the border between the two countries.

Bangladesh protested against the construction of border fences too close to the zero line. An official at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Home Affairs sated that "the border fence can be built at a distance of 150 yards from the zero line on the border.” On 09 March 2009 the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry expressed concern over Myanmar’s plan to build a barbed wire fence along a 40-km stretch of their border, renewing tensions after a resources dispute last year. “We heard a few days ago that Myanmar was piling fencing materials on its side of the border but only realised it yesterday that they plan to erect the fence only 13 metres off the no man’s land,” said a ministry official, who asked not to be named. No construction work is allowed in the narrow no man’s land area, other officials said.

In October 2009 Bangladesh authorities alerted border security force to monitor movement of Burmese soldiers, who were gearing up again along the border to construct border fencing. Bangladesh Rifles reinforced its border guard forces and issued an alert in the area close to the construction site. The Burmese Army, after stopping activities on border fencing during the monsoon, on 02 Ocober 2009 resumed erecting pillars along the Naf River, which marks the border between the two countries. With the fresh start to border fencing about 400 military personnel from three battalions were brought back to the border. Bangladesh sent three army brigades to its southeastern hilly border after Myanmar deployed fresh regular army contingents along with Nasaka border troops, dug bunkers and added artillery. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said Myanmar is erecting barbed wire fence along Bangladesh border in Bandarban conforming with the international law.

By October 2010 Burma's border guard force, NASAKA, was building outposts for security at the newly erected fence along the Bangladesh - Burma border in Arakan State. NASAKA was deploying extra outposts along the border from Taungbro to Alae Than Kyaw in Maungdaw Township, especially at the entrances of tributary creeks and streams along the Naff River, where fencing can not be built. There are more than twenty such gaps along the Naff River until it reaches Alae Than Kyaw on the Bay of Bengal in Maungdaw.

One concern for Bangladesh government is that it would not be able to deport Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslims are a minority group estimated at about 800,000 in the northern part of Arakan State adjacent to Bangladesh. They are ethnically and religiously related to the Chittagonians of southern Bangladesh. They have been rendered stateless, officially on the basis of their ethnicity. The 1982 Citizenship Law deprived them of legal status because they do not feature among the 135 national races which had settled in Burma prior to 1823, the start of the British colonisation of Arakan. There is no doubt that their religious identity plays a preponderant factor in the discrimination they are subject to. In 1998, in response to UNHCR, the then Secretary wrote, "these people are not originally from Myanmar" [...] "they are racially, ethnically, culturally different from the other national races in our country. Their language as well as religion is also different".

The estimated 728,000 community members live as virtual prisoners as a result of the military junta’s oppression of religious and ethnic minorities. The United States considers the Muslim Rohingya people, who live mainly in the Burmese state of Northern Rakhine State (NRS), to be a religious and ethnic minority that is being persecuted by the country’s military regime. Despite having a presence in the area extending back to the seventh century, the Rohingyas are not considered by the junta to be Burmese citizens. They face severe restrictions when attempting to travel, engage in economic activity, register the births, deaths and marriages in the community, and obtain an education. The junta also has placed other restrictions on the community and forcibly converted some to Buddhism.

The Rohingyas’ most popular destination has been neighboring Bangladesh. From December 1991 to March 1992, between 210,000 and 250,000 Burmese Rohingya fled Arakan state in western Burma for neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya, later designated refugees by the UNHCR, claimed rape, torture, summary killings, confiscation and destruction of homes and property, destruction of mosques, physical abuse, religious persecution, and forced labor by Burmese armed forces. Their reports of widespread human rights abuses were verified by an Amnesty International fact-finding team sent to interview the refugees in Bangladesh.

After a February 1992 visit to Bangladesh, US Committee for Refugees (USCR) stated that "the Myanmar Military's actions were part of a deliberate campaign of terror aimed at driving the Rohingyas out of Myanmar," and in February 1993, the UN special rapporteur to Myanmar announced that the Rohingya in Arakan state were "at high risk."

As one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world, Bangladesh is unable to permanently resettle the refugees. Bangladesh at first welcomed the Rohingya, who are Muslim and culturally and ethnically similar to Bangladeshis, but within months this situation soured, and Bangladesh began forcibly repatriating the Rohingya. Between 1991 and 1992, the government in Bangladesh forcibly repatriated 250,000 refugees, citing overpopulation and land scarcity in the country. In 1992 and 1993, clashes between refugees and Bangladeshi security forces over allegedly involuntary repatriations resulted in deaths and injuries on both sides. All but around 20,000 of the Rohingya who originally fled Burma in 1991-92 have either been forced back to Burma by Bangladeshi authorities or have returned to Burma under UNHCR auspices. Tens of thousands more Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since the 1991-92 exodus, with some being absorbed into UNHCR¿s camps for the original 1991-92 refugees, and most entering the shantytowns around Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh. Rohingyas who have repatriated know that they are not wanted in Bangladesh and that conditions are bad for Rohingyas in Bangladesh; that so many returnees have apparently entered Bangladesh again must indicate that conditions in Burma are particularly bad.

UNHCR also has documented 12,000 Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, but has conceded there might be twice that number actually there. Nearly 1,000 Rohingya attempted to flee by sea to Thailand in 2008. In addition, an estimated 500,000 internally displaced Rohingyas have been forced from their lands by the Burmese government, leaving many, especially women and children, vulnerable to human trafficking.

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Page last modified: 20-05-2012 19:06:29 ZULU