Intensification of Civil War in Myanmar: What Does It Mean for Bangladesh-Myanmar Border?

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Since the Junta took control of Myanmar through February 2021 coup, they have been facing armed resistance from different ethnic groups. Since October 2023, the Three Brotherhood Alliance, composed of different ethnic armed groups, have increased attacks against Tatmadaw throughout Myanmar. In the last four months, the Arakan Army has increased their offensives against Tatmadaw and took control of nine towns in Rakhine and Chin states. It is highly unlikely that the Tatmadaw will regain control of these towns in anytime soon. Very recently in March 2024, the Arakan Army has captured the Aung Tha Pyay border guard post controlled by Myanmar border guards near Bangladesh border, as a result 179 Border Guard Police (BGP) members sought refuge inside Bangladesh.

Earlier, on 15 February, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) authority handed over more than 300 nationals of which most are members BGP of Myanmar who fled and took shelter inside Bangladesh on 4 February 2024. Rebel groups in the Arakan state have been engaged in civil war with Myanmar’s military beginning of February. After about a month, on 11 March 2024, another 179 members of BGP again crossed border and took shelter amid the intensification of armed clashes in Rakhine state. Continuous gunfire, mortar shells, and rocket explosions have marked the ongoing civil war in Rakhine state recently. The intensification of civil war in Myanmar will have some ramifications for Bangladesh.

Firstly, Bangladesh will witness and must tackle more events of Myanmar nationals crossing Bangladesh border and take shelter. Even though BGB has successfully returned 330 Myanmar nationals in mid-February, of whom 302 are BGP members, 4 are family members of BGP, 2 are from military, 18 are from immigration service, and 4 are civilians, there is no guarantee that this will stop in near future. It is already evident that such crossing will increase, for instance on 11 March another 179 members of BGP have again sought refuge in Bangladesh. Such crossing will create additional burdens for the BGB members and Bangladesh authority as they will have to return again and again the fresher batches of Myanmar nationals, particularly Tatmadaw and BGP members crossing Bangladesh.

Bangladesh will have to beef up its vigilance and patrolling to avoid any further crossing of borders. This will result in Bangladesh spending more on the security of the border areas. Managing border crossing of such numbers of border guard and Tatmadaw members, their disarmament, providing temporary shelter, foods, clothes, medicines and health facilities will strain the Bangladeshi authorities. This is to be noted that Bangladesh is already strained by sheltering more than 1.2 million of Myanmar’s Rohingya nationals for more than six years who fled from genocide carried out by the Junta forces.

Secondly, the intensification of civil war in Myanmar will spill over and will affect Bangladeshis too. The bullets and explosives fired by the combatants inside Myanmar will cross on the Bangladesh side of the border. This will affect Bangladesh’s security as many Bangladeshis will be injured and killed. Already on 11 March, a member of Ward-8 of Naikhongchhari Sadar Union Parishad was injured by a bullet fired from Myanmar. Earlier on 5 February, two people of which one is a Bangladeshi civilian, and the other is a Rohingya refugee, were killed by a mortar fired from Myanmar. Before that, on 29 and 31 January, mortars were also shot inside Bangladesh.

In the last four months such events have increased resulting in killing of two persons and injuring more than nine according to news reports. The frequent crossing of bullets and mortars are not new for Myanmar, in the last year a Rohingya youth was killed at the border area by a mortar shell fired from Myanmar. Myanmar also violates Bangladesh’s airspaces previously. It has become a habit for Myanmar recently as Arakan Army increased their presence in the border areas. This goes without saying that the intensification of civil war will create unrest and panic among the civilians of Bangladesh as border becomes unstable due to intensification of civil war. Out of panic, many will leave their homes and belongings, as it is already evident, for safety and security of their lives. This will leave negative impacts on Bangladesh’s economy.

Thirdly, Bangladesh has trade relations with Myanmar. Bangladesh imports garlic, ginger, onions, fish, wood, pickles, spices, coconuts, and electrical goods etc. items from Myanmar via the Teknaf port. Bangladesh exports potatoes, aluminum, toys, medicines, plastic goods, cosmetics, RMGs, etc. items to Myanmar. Because of the intensification of civil war in Rakhine state between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Junta troops, almost all import and export activities with Myanmar through the Teknaf land port have completely halted. Bangladeshi importers will face losses and Bangladesh will loss revenue as trade comes to a standstill. If the civil war continues Bangladesh will have to find other sources of import of the goods other than Myanmar. Regarding diplomatic relations, Bangladesh has temporarily moved its consulate from Rakhine’s capital Sittwe to Yangon.

Lastly, more the civil war intensifies the lesser the possibility Bangladesh will see the repatriation of Myanmar’s Rohingya nationals into their motherland. As Arakan Army increases its control by overpowering Tatmadaw in Rakhine state, what the future holds of the Rohingyas is unclear. The Arakan Army does not see the Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar as much as threat the Tatmadaw did. However, this is to be noted that Arakan Army also does not accept the term ‘Rohingya’. Myanmar’s ruling political elites also denied their ethnic identity and took away their citizenship right by enacting the Citizenship Act of Myanmar in 1982.

Thus, the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw both are of the same opinion when it comes to the Rohingyas. The Arakan Army gaining control over Rakhine will create some difficulties, Myanmar will deny repatriation due to the environment not being conducive, even many international actors and donors prescribe the same opinion that Rohingyas must not be repatriated amid the worsening civil war. It is also highly unlikely that the Rohingyas will accept voluntary repatriation due to the intensification of civil war. Ultimately, Bangladesh suffers as repatriation process is further stalled. If the civil war continues to intensify, then it will pose a serious strategic question:  Will the Arakan Army become more powerful than the Tatmadaw in future?

– Md. Ali Siddiquee is an adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) and Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.

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