Myanmar Navy Encircled Bangladesh’s Saint Martin’s Island As Myanmar Plans To Occupy The Bangladeshi Islands

As Myanmar’s ongoing conflict turns up on the doorstep of Bangladesh’s St. Martin Island, vested interests are that the island is going to be occupied by Myanmar. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The rumour mongers are trying to take advantage of the escalation of the current situation prevailing in the island, where the sound of fierce gunfire between the Myanmar military junta and the resistance group(s) is being heard every now and then. Two people were killed and many injured as mortar shells were fired on the Bangladeshi territory. 264 members of Myanmar’s border and security forces have managed to escape to Bangladesh. The people of bordering areas are in a state of panic.

The Saint Martin’s Island, an 8-square-kilometer island in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh. It was around 9:00 a.m. on February 14 Myanmar Navy started firing at Bangladeshi nationals and locals heard a booming sound mingling with the melody of the saltwater waves. Five minutes later, the sound came again – this time three consecutive blasts.

The Myanmar Navy is now targeting Arakan Army positions in the direction of Myanmar, located in that country’s territorial waters near Saint Martin’s Island, and along the Myanmar border near the Naf River. 

The Arakan Army is also firing back at Myanmar Navy ships and boats, reads an ISPR press release issued Sunday.

Currently, several warships of the Myanmar Navy are conducting operations along the Myanmar border. The Myanmar Navy is also informing the Bangladesh Navy of its position in Myanmar’s territorial waters near Saint Martin’s Island. 

Saint Martin Island, located in the Bay of Bengal, is the only coral island in Bangladesh. Renowned for its natural beauty, it attracts thousands of tourists each year. Credit: MD Repon Bhuiyan

Bangladesh’s navy has deployed warships around St Martin’s Island as fighting in Myanmar between the junta and the separatist Arakan Army (AA) endangers Bangladeshi shipping.

Bangladesh’s Navy posted photos on Facebook of the island deployment and Border Guard Bangladesh chief Major General Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Siddiqui visited the island.

Bangladesh has previously complained to Naypyitaw about the inclusion of St Martin’s Island on official maps of Myanmar.

Fighting between the AA and Myanmar’s regime has led to shooting at Bangladeshi boats in the Mohana area of the Naf River estuary.

The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said it protested to Naypyitaw on June 12 as Myanmar’s navy shot at AA positions near St Martin’s Island with the rebel group returning fire at the vessels.

The Bangladesh Navy reported heavy deployments of junta warships near the border.

It said there was increasing Bangladeshi social media chatter about the island’s security.

Myanmar’s junta media reported a meeting between the Bangladeshi ambassador to Myanmar, Md Monwar Hossain, and the junta’s foreign minister, Than Swe, in Naypyitaw on June 13 to “discuss cooperation for peace and stability along the border”.

On Saturday Bangladesh’s opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir slammed Dhaka’s “silence” over St Martin’s Island and its “knee-jerk” foreign policy.

“What Myanmar has been doing the last few days surrounding St Martin is the ultimate threat to the sovereignty of the country,” Alamgir said.

St Martin Union Council chairman Mujibur Rahman told The Irrawaddy that communications with the mainland had been suspended since June 6 when gunfire from Myanmar landed near Bangladeshi boats.

A special ship was used to ferry goods and people to the island.

Resident Jakaria Alfaj said firing has reduced in recent days.

The AA’s political wing, the United League of Arakan, this week urged Maungdaw residents near the Bangladeshi border to leave their homes as the AA seeks to seize remaining junta strongholds.

In February 2019, Dhaka protested to Myanmar about the inclusion of St Martin’s Island inside Myanmar’s territory on an official website.

A formal complaint had been made in October 2018 about the apparent territorial claim with Naypyitaw accused of having an “ulterior motive” behind the online maps.

In April 2019, around 100 Border Guard Bangladesh personnel were deployed on St Martin’s Island following the erection of a steel structure by Myanmar along the Naf. Bangladesh had not been informed about the construction.

In June last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the media that she would not lease out St Martin’s Island, prompting US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller to deny Washington had engaged in any conversations about taking over the island.

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