DHAKA – Bangladesh on Sunday deployed heavily armed border guards to an island near its southern border with Myanmar for the first time in 20 years, officials said.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) distributed images showing dozens of troops carrying assault rifles disembarking at Saint Martin’s island, a small island in the Bay of Bengal that has caused diplomatic tensions between the neighbors.
The BGB said the troop deployment was part of “regular activities” to ensure border protection and curb drug trafficking.
But the force’s lieutenant colonel, Sarker Mohammad Mustafizur Rahman, told AFP it was the first time since 1997 their men had landed there.
“After more than 20 years we felt we should deploy,” he said.
The deployment comes just two months after Bangladesh’s foreign ministry summoned Myanmar’s ambassador in Dhaka to protest the inclusion of Saint Martin inside their territory in some maps printed inside the Southeast Asian country.
He was also summoned in October last year, after a Myanmar government website depicted the island as within Myanmar’s territory.
Ties between the neighbors have soured since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine, a troubled western state bordering Bangladesh.
The brutal operation has forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh since August 2017, transforming parts near the border into the world’s largest refugee camp.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh has accused Myanmar of perpetrating genocide against the Rohingya, who share some cultural and linguistic similarities with Bangladeshis in the country’s southeast.