Bilateral ties deteriorate after Myanmar cancels Bangladesh talks

Senior Tatmadaw officers cancelled talks with their Bangladesh counterparts amid a deterioration in bilateral ties following the militants attacks in Rakhine State in October, Reuters newsagency has reported.

The cancelled meetings were latest of a series of failed initiatives to improve diplomatic relations, Reuters said in the December 14 report.

It quoted Bangladeshi officials as saying the abrupt cancellation of the mid-October talks reflected Myanmar’s reluctance to deepen bilateral ties and press ahead with talks on security cooperation and the establishment of border liaison officers.

“These two documents are incredibly important, particularly given the situation we’re dealing with right now, but we’ve hit a wall,” a senior Bangladeshi official, who did not want to be identified because of the private nature of the exchanges, told Reuters.

It cited a letter sent by the head of the Tatmadaw’s foreign relations department, Lieutenant Colonel Aung Zaw Linn, to Bangladesh officials on October 13, four days after nine police officers died in the militant attacks in northern Rakhine.

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“Regarding the Army to Army Talk between Bangladesh Armed Forces and Myanmar Defence Services…I deeply regret to inform you that our authorities would like to postpone,” Aung Zaw Linn’s letter said.

It gave “unforseen commitments” as a reason for cancelling talks lasting nearly a week due to have begun in Bangladesh on October 16.

Five days later, the head of the Myanmar police division against transnational crime also pulled out of talks with the Bangladeshi border guard force due to have taken place in Dhaka in late October, citing the security situation in Rakhine.

One of the documents Bangladesh was keen to discuss was a memorandum of understanding on security dialogue and cooperation. Another document, reviewed by Reuters, proposed the establishment of border liaison officers (BLO) on both sides of the frontier and other collaboration measures including joint patrols.

Bilateral tensions were strained last month when Myanmar’s ambassador to Dhaka was reprimanded over reports in state media that some of the militants blamed for the October 9 attacks had crossed the border from Bangladesh, Reuters said.

The Tatmadaw’s press office and presidential spokesperson U Zaw Htay did not respond to an emailed request for comment, it said.

Mr Richard Horsey, a former UN diplomat in Myanmar, said relations with Bangladesh had always been characterised by “deep tension and suspicion”.

Horsey said Myanmar was missing an opportunity by not seeking more help from Dhaka in the aftermath of the October 9 attacks.

“Given their track record of investigating radical organisations, it is somewhat surprising Myanmar has seemingly not reached out more openly about cooperation on the attacks,” he told Reuters.

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