Bangladesh Rejects Burma ‘Proposal’ to Link Migrant Return to Freeing Guard

By Reuters 24 June 2015

DHAKA — Bangladesh’s border guard said on Monday that it has turned down a proposal it said Burma had made to return a captured officer if Dhaka also took in some 600 migrants from a people trafficking ship intercepted by the Burma Navy.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has already summoned the Burmese ambassador in Dhaka and lodged a strong protest to ask for the immediate release of Abdur Razzak.

Razzak was seized and another Bangladeshi guard was wounded by Burmese forces on June 17 after the two sides exchanged gunfire while chasing drug smugglers on the Naff River separating the two countries.

Border Guard Bangladesh battalion commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Abu Jar Al Jahid said the countries had agreed last year that any soldiers straying across the border should be handed back after senior officers held a so-called “flag meeting” at the frontier.

But on this occasion, he said, Burma wanted to link the handover to the return of the migrants. Jahid said his counterpart, the commander in Border Guard Police in Maungdaw, Burma, had made the proposal.

“We have rejected the proposal as this cannot be linked with trafficking victims,” Jahid told Reuters. “Instead, we proposed a flag meeting to settle the issues.”

Officials at Burma’s embassy in Dhaka and at the ambassador’s residence were not immediately available for comment.

Jahid said Burma wanted Bangladesh to identify around 600 of the 727 migrants picked up from the ship intercepted by the Burma Navy on May 29 as Bangladeshi nationals and take them back as part of the deal.

Thousands of people, many of them Bangladeshi or Rohingya Muslims from Burma, have taken to the sea in recent months in dangerously crowded boats run by people-traffickers, heading south toward other southeast Asian countries.

Previously, Burma has said nearly all of them were Bangladeshis seeking better economic prospects, rather than Rohingya, a mostly stateless minority reportedly subject to severe discrimination and mistreatment in Burma.