Bangladesh deploys border guards to island near Myanmar

Border Guards Bangladesh paramilitary personnel carrying assault rifles disembark as they have been deployed on Saint Martin's island, a small island in the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, on April 7, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh on Sunday (April 7) 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 neighbours.

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 Agence France-Presse it was the first time since 1997 that 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 against the inclusion of Saint Martin inside their territory in some maps printed inside the South-east 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 neighbours 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 south-east.

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