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Exclusive: Bangladesh protests over Myanmar's suspected landmine use near border
September 6, 2017 / 12:55 AM / in a month

Exclusive: Bangladesh protests over Myanmar's suspected landmine use near border

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh lodged a protest after it said Myanmar had laid landmines near the border between the two countries, government officials said on Wednesday, amid growing tensions over the huge influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.

An army crackdown triggered by an attack on Aug. 25 by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security forces has led to the killing of at least 400 people and the exodus of nearly 125,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, leading to a major humanitarian crisis.

When asked whether Bangladesh had lodged the complaint, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said “yes” without elaborating. Three other government sources confirmed that a protest note was faxed to Myanmar in the morning saying the Buddhist-majority country was violating international norms.

“Bangladesh has expressed great concern to Myanmar about the explosions very close to the border,” a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The source asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

A Myanmar military source said landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them. But none had been planted recently.

Two Bangladeshi sources told Reuters they believed Myanmar security forces were putting the landmines in their territory along the barbed-wire fence between a series of border pillars. Both sources said Bangladesh learned about the landmines mainly through photographic evidence and informers.

“Our forces have also seen three to four groups working near the barbed wire fence, putting something into the ground,” one of the sources said. “We then confirmed with our informers that they were laying land mines.”

The sources did not clarify if the groups were in uniform, but added that they were sure they were not Rohingya insurgents.

Manzurul Hassan Khan, a Bangladesh border guard officer, told Reuters earlier that two blasts were heard on Tuesday on the Myanmar side, after two on Monday fueled speculation that Myanmar forces had laid land mines.

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya man carrying his belongings approaches the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Bandarban, an area under Cox's Bazar authority, Bangladesh, August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

One boy had his left leg blown off on Tuesday near a border crossing before being brought to Bangladesh for treatment, while another boy suffered minor injuries, Khan said, adding that the blast could have been a mine explosion.

A Rohingya refugee who went to the site of the blast on Monday - on a footpath near where civilians fleeing violence are huddled in a no man’s land on the border - filmed what appeared to be a mine: a metal disc about 10 centimeters (4 inches) in diameter partially buried in the mud. He said he believed there were two more such devices buried in the ground.

Two refugees also told Reuters they saw members of the Myanmar army around the site in the immediate period preceding the Monday blasts, which occurred around 2:25 p.m.

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

Reuters was unable to independently verify that the planted devices were land mines and that there was any link to the Myanmar army.

The Myanmar army has not commented on the blasts near the border. Zaw Htay, the spokesman for Myanmar’s national leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was not immediately available for comment.

On Monday, he told Reuters clarification was needed to determine “where did it explode, who can go there and who laid those land mines. Who can surely say those mines were not laid by the terrorists?”

The Bangladesh interior ministry secretary, Mostafa Kamal Uddin, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The border pillars mentioned by the Dhaka-based sources mark the boundaries of the two countries, along which Myanmar has a portion of barbed wire fencing. Most of the two countries’ 217-km-long border is porous.

“They are not doing anything on Bangladeshi soil,” said one of the sources. “But we have not seen such laying of land mines in the border before.”

Myanmar, which was under military rule until recently and is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, is one of the few countries that have not signed the 1997 U.N. Mine Ban Treaty.

Additional reporting by Wa Lone in YANGON and Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Philip McClellan and Nick Macfie

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