DHAKA—The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to protest the publication of several maps showing Bangladesh’s St. Martin’s Island as being part of Myanmar territory.
M Khurshed Alam, the secretary of the ministry’s Maritime Affairs Unit, summoned Myanmar Ambassador Lwin Oo to the ministry in the capital Dhaka and lodged a strong protest.
The Dhaka-based New Age daily reported that the ambassador was told that the Bangladesh government had identified at least three websites run by Myanmar authorities showing St. Martin’s Island as part of Myanmar, and was questioned about the motives for the publication of the maps.
The ambassador was also told that including Bangladesh territory in maps of Myanmar could harm relations between the neighboring countries.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population used doctored maps showing St. Martin’s Island as part of Myanmar and shared them with several international websites, according to the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry.
All international political maps—including those drawn up in 1937; those created during the 1947 partition of India; those created at the time of Myanmar’s independence from British rule in 1948; and those created at the time of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971—have shown St. Martin’s Island as an integral part of Bangladesh’s territory, Bangladesh officials said.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea also showed St. Martin’s Island as part of Bangladesh in its maps presented in a verdict settling a dispute on the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2012, the officials said.
Myanmar accepted Bangladesh’s jurisdiction over St. Martin’s Island in a bilateral instrument signed between the two countries in 1974, they said.
Ambassador Oo admitted that showing St. Martin’s Island as Myanmar territory was a mistake, according to Bangladesh officials.
Myanmar officials in Dhaka did not respond to The Irrawaddy’s request for comment.
The Bangladesh side also handed over a diplomatic note to the Myanmar ambassador demanding immediate rectification of the forged maps and an investigation to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.
The row over faulty maps comes amid diplomatic efforts by the two countries to begin the repatriation of ethnic minority Rohingya from Bangladesh to Rakhine State.
About 720,000 Rohingya, mostly women, children and elderly people, fled “security operations” by the Myanmar military in Rakhine beginning on Aug. 25, 2017, after a series of attacks on Myanmar security outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
The United Nations denounced the security operations as “ethnic cleansing” and as having “genocidal intent”.
The Rohingya influx into Bangladesh has continued and the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh is now over 1 million.
A former Bangladesh diplomat told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar’s claims to St. Martin’s Island and another Bangladeshi island, Shah Parir Dwip, date back to the time Dhaka lodged a formal complaint with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over a dispute concerning the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal in January 2010.
The former diplomat said that issue was considered settled, however, after the tribunal delivered its judgment in March 2012.
“We suspect Myanmar wanted to test Bangladesh’s reaction. And we reacted seriously,” he said.
Mohammad Nurul Islam, a researcher on Bangladesh-Myanmar relations based in Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar’s intention is to distract attention from Rohingya repatriation by claiming the island as its territory.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Bangladesh has asked the country’s Foreign Ministry to play an active role to ensure that Myanmar Army personnel involved in atrocities against the Rohingya are brought to trial in international courts.
In a statement, NHRC chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque called for stepped up diplomatic efforts to impose international economic sanctions on Myanmar in order to increase pressure on Naypyitaw to take back the Rohingya while ensuring their citizenship and human rights are respected.
Describing the repatriation instruments signed by the Myanmar authorities so far as “eyewash”, Hoque requested the Foreign Ministry arrange an international conference and concert to mobilize global support to expedite the repatriation process.