Bangladesh denies Burma troop build-up

Oct 12, 2009 (DVB), Bangladesh's foreign minister has played down rumours of a build-up of Burmese troops along its border, following reports of escalating tension between the two countries.

Dipu Moni, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the troop movements were "routine practice, not a build up".

It follows comments from Colonel Azam from the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR), a border paramilitary force, that a "massive build-up" and "abnormal movement" of troops and armour was occurring on the Burmese side.

The BDR last week sent three troop battalions to the border following the resumption in construction of Burma's controversial border fence.

Tension has grown in recent weeks following a dispute between the two countries over maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is believed to have found lucrative natural gas sources near to Burmese waters.

The Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheik Hasina, last week requested that the two companies involved in the dispute, including US multinational ConocoPhillips, not drill in the contested waters while Bangladesh goes to the UN for arbitration.

The Bangladeshi newspaper, New Age, reported today that Dhaka had denied it sought UN arbitration following pressure from the US because of ConocoPhillips' involvement.

The issue border fence issue is also seen to have contributed towards greater militarization of the region.

A source on the Bangladesh side of the border told DVB today that locals in the area were increasingly concerned about the fence and the impact it could have on freedom of movement and trade.

Reports from the area earlier this year said that the fence could seriously impact on people on the Burmese side of the border who depend on Bangladeshi services.

The issue over the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Burma currently living in Bangladesh, the world's most densely populate country, has also caused consternation in Dhaka.

Bangladesh's Daily Star newspaper quoted intelligence sources last week as saying that Burma had rounded up around 10,000 Rohingya near to the border to send them across to Bangladesh.

The Burmese government does not recognize the Muslim Rohingya as a native population, and thus they hold no legal status in the country.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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