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Burma: Landmines being laid near Bangladesh border ‘to prevent return of Rohingya Muslims’

Burma: Landmines being laid near Bangladesh border ‘to prevent return of Rohingya Muslims’

Dhaka: Bangladesh is set to launch complaint against its neighboring state Burma over placement of explosives on its border with the intention to keep out 125,000 members of Muslim minority fleeing state-sponsored violence.

Burma has been laying landmines across a section of its border with Bangladesh, with government sources adding that the purpose may have been to prevent the return of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence.

Amid growing tensions over the huge influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Burma, Bangladesh has lodged a protest against the move.

An army crackdown triggered by an attack in late August by Rohingya insurgents on Burma security forces has led to the killing of at least 400 people and the exodus of nearly 125,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Some predictions say the number of those fleeing could rise to 300,000.

Foreign secretary Shahidul Haque simply said ‘Yes’ without any detailed statement, when asked whether Bangladesh had lodged the complaint. Three other government sources confirmed that a protest note was faxed to Burma in the morning saying the Buddhist-majority country was violating international norms.

“They are putting the landmines in their territory along the barbed-wire fence between a series of border pillars,” said one of the sources. 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 landmines.”

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

A Burma 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.

“Earlier that two blasts were heard on Tuesday on the Burma side, after two on Monday fuelled speculation that Burma forces had laid landmines,” said Manzurul Hassan Khan, a Bangladesh border guard officer.

“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 adding that the blast could have been a mine explosion,” Mr Khan said.

“A metal disc about 10cm in diameter partially buried in the mud. There were two more such devices buried in the ground,” said 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.

Two refugees also told that they saw members of the Burma army around the site in the immediate period preceding the Monday blasts, which occurred around 2.25pm, according to Reuters.

Reuters was unable to independently verify that the planted devices were landmines and that there was any link to the Burmese army.

The border pillars mentioned by the Dhaka based sources demarcate the boundaries of the two countries, along which Burma has a portion of barbed wire fencing. Most of the two countries’ 135-mile border is porous.

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

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

Also on Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in the north-western state of Rakhine but, in a statement, she made no mention of the Rohingya.

Burma national security adviser Thaung Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Burma was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a UN resolution on the crisis.

“We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council,” he said. “China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia, so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward.”