Burma Closes Border over Missing Soldiers Spat

By Nyein Nyein 22 November 2012

Burma has closed its border crossing with neighboring Bangladesh at Maungdaw Township, northwest Arakan (Rakhine) State, apparently in response to a perceived lack of cooperation in finding three abducted Burmese soldiers.

The missing men were attached to the Burmese military’s General Engineering Unit and abducted by unidentified rebel troops on Nov. 5 while on their way to deliver rations to colleagues constructing a fence at the Bangladeshi border 170 km (105 miles) north of Maungdaw Township, according to local sources.

A Maungdaw resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the frontier checkpoint had been closed for three days. “We are told that the crossing is closed because important issues are happening there at the border,” he said.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, a Burmese Border Security Force (Nasaka) member declined to provide details other than confirming that the border remained closed.

A fisherman from Aung Ba La Village, Maungdaw Township, said the crossing had been shut from the Burmese side and he did not know when it would be reopened. “As the border is closed, illegal fishing boat workers like us cannot go out to sea,” he said.

Border trading routes, both legal and illegal crossings, were closed for nearly three months immediately after communal strife erupted in Maungdaw on June 8. Then the authorities reopened the border for trade and allowed daily crossing three months later on Aug. 27.

The residents of Myitnar Village in Teknaf Township, Bangladesh, said their side of the border remained open but little naturally trade was happening between the two countries. Burma mostly exports fisheries products—fish and shrimp—but there were not many fishing boat moored there at the moment, said the residents.

Nasaka and Bangladeshi Border Guards reportedly met at least seven times in the last two weeks to search for the abducted soldiers. Locals have speculated that the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, based at the Burma-Bangladesh border, could be responsible for the abductions, but this has not been independently verified.

According to a Nasaka source, the abducted trio consist of Sgt Naing Htoo Aung and two of his privates who belonged to the General Engineering Unit that has been working on more than 300 km (185 miles) of fencing along Burma’s western frontier for four years.

Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay declined to comment on the case of the missing soldiers when asked by The Irrawaddy at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday. “It is better to ask the Defense Ministry,” he said.