For the first time, Myanmar forces flee into Bangladesh during fighting with an ethnic armed group

Members of Myanmar Border Guard Police, in civilian clothing, sit under the shade of trees after abandoning their posts following an alleged attack by members of the Arakan Army as Bangladesh border guards stand guard in Ghumdhum, Bandarban, Bangladesh, on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Nearly a hundred members of Myanmar's Border Guard Police have fled their posts and taken shelter in Bangladesh during fighting between Myanmar security forces and an ethnic minority army, an official of Bangladesh's border agency said Monday. (AP Photo/Shafiqur Rahman)
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Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — More than 100 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police have fled their posts and taken shelter in Bangladesh to escape fighting between Myanmar security forces and an ethnic minority army, an official with Bangladesh’s border agency said Monday.

It is the first time that Myanmar forces have been known to flee into Bangladesh since an alliance of ethnic minority armies in Myanmar launched an offensive against the military government late last year.

Shariful Islam, spokesperson for Border Guard Bangladesh, said the Myanmar forces entered over the past two days during fighting with the Arakan Army in Myanmar’s Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh.

The 103 troops entered through the Tombru border in Bandarban district, he said.

“They have been disarmed and taken to safe places,” he said.

Myanmar’s military government had no immediate comment.

Also on Monday, Bangladeshi media said two persons — a Bangladeshi woman and a Rohingya refugee— were killed in shelling from Myanmar after a house in Bandarban was hit.

Bangladesh’s law minister, Anisul Huq, told Parliament that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had instructed the military and paramilitary border guards to have patience in dealing with the tensions across the border.

“Bangladesh is observing the situation closely and steps will be taken,” the United News of Bangladesh agency quoted him as saying.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud said Monday that Myanmar’s ambassador to Bangladesh, U. Aung Kyaw Moe, and Deputy Foreign Minister, U. Lwin Oo, told Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they would take back their troops sheltered in Bangladesh.

The ministry also sent a “note verbale” to the Myanmar envoy in Dhaka, protesting bullets and mortar shells from Myanmar landing in Bangladesh.

The Arakan Army is the military wing of the Rakhine ethnic minority that seeks autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. It has been attacking army outposts in the western state since November.

It is part of an alliance of ethnic minority armies that launched an offensive in October and gained strategic territory in Myanmar’s northeast bordering China. Its success was seen as a major defeat for the military government, which seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and is now embroiled in a wide-ranging civil war.

The alliance, called the Three Brotherhood Alliance, said in a statement Monday that the Arakan Army had attacked two border outposts in Maungdaw township in Rakhine state and captured one of them on Sunday.

Khaing Thukha, an Arakan Army spokesperson, said that fighting continued Monday at the second outpost.

Bangladesh shares a 271-kilometer (168-mile) border with Myanmar and hosts more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya refugees, many of whom fled from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar starting in August 2017 when its military launched a brutal “clearance operation” against them following attacks by an insurgent group.