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March 20, 2014

Burma Constructs New Border Checkpoints With Bangladesh

by Khin Phyu Htway

Burma, also known as Myanmar, says it is building new checkpoints along its border with Bangladesh in volatile Rakhine state.

The Home Ministry told parliament Thursday the government is also resuming the construction of a fence along the border.

Khin Saw Wai, a member of parliament from Rakhine state who pushed for the new security measures, told VOA's Burmese service that people from Bangladesh are coming into Burma at will because there is not enough security along the border.

“Although we have a fence at Burma’s western door between Bangladesh and our Maung Daw region [Rakhine State], this cannot stop illegal entry into the country.  The Bengali population has increased.  We have only seen illegal entering and no effective system to stop it.  That is why we want the government to control this situation.  I submitted the proposal to increase security for the Rakhine region in parliament.  Now I read in the news that there will be 15 more security gates at the border, but I don’t know where exactly they will be built.  Nonetheless, as a person who proposed this at the parliament, I hope this will be [a] more effective way of controlling the border situation," said Khin Saw Wai.

Government spokesman Ye Htut confirmed new security measures were being planned, but said those seeking details should talk with local officials in Rakhine.

“I only know that there have been some preparations for security in Rakhine state.  Since this measure is being undertaken by the Rakhine government, it is best to ask the information department of the local government.  Unlike in the past, the central government does not control everything.  Local government is doing its own for the security and they are working together with police forces there," said Ye Htut.

Rakhine security officials have not returned VOA's request for comment.

Buddhist-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state in 2012 and has since spread to other parts of the country.  The sectarian fighting has killed at least 240 people and displaced 140,000 others, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who are called Bengali by the Burmese government.

Burma's government refuses to officially recognize the Rohingya, saying members of any officially recognized minority must be able to prove their ancestors lived in Burma before the British invaded Rakhine in 1823.

Many Rohingya Muslims say their ancestors have lived in Burma for generations, but the impoverished minority group lacks the documentation to prove it.

Talks between Burmese President Thein Sein and Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, on the sidelines of a regional meeting last month produced no tangible agreement on the Rohingya issue.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.