One couldn't fail to note the irony, and what a leveller our lives on Earth can be, as the first reports started streaming in of members of the Myanmar border security force, the erstwhile Nasaka helplessly crossing into Bangladesh via the same route that they had once forced upon the persecuted Rohingya population.

Although ostensibly disbanded in 2013 following persistent complaints of human rights violations, with a particular focus on their treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state, a number of credible watchdogs have since reported their reconstitution as the Border Guard Police had done little to change the situation on the ground.

In any case, they are the ones now, along with small numbers of army and immigration officers, who are desperately seeking refuge in a foreign country, every bit as vulnerable as their victims once were. What makes things worse for them, is that the ruling junta, in its infinite insecurity, is very likely to try to prosecute them on their return, under the very strict laws of desertion followed by their security forces.

On the first day itself that this new precedent was set (Feb. 4, a Sunday), some 106 BGP members entered through the border in Tumbru in Bandarban district. Over the next couple of days, this number swelled to 264, with a smattering of the non-BGP personnel, and by the end of the week, there were 328. As for those who describe these officers as 'deserters' who had somehow fled from the line of duty - thus associating them with cowardice, I say that is not for us to judge. We may well find that a number of them have refused to follow orders that pitted them against their fellow citizens.

Initially, almost the first reaction of the Myanmar government had been a bizarre request that they should all be shipped on a Bangladeshi ferry to Maungdaw Township in Rakhine. That was immediately rejected by Dhaka on security grounds. Its counter-offer suggested the junta arrange to airlift the 328 troops and staff. who crossed the border to escape Arakan Army (AA) attacks. The Border Guard Bangladesh chief Major General Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Siddiqui, told the media on Wednesday that it was an internal matter for the junta whether the troops would face trial on their return.

In all its communications, Dhaka has insisted it wants the process to be initiated on a priority basis, and as fast as possible. There is possibly some anxiety on the part of the government to avoid another Rohingya-like situation, or at least to avoid any such impression from taking hold. A more deliberative approach may reveal there need not be such a rush to repatriate soldiers and government officials. They may well prove to have valuable information they can divulge on say, the cleansing operation carried out against the Rohingya in 2017, that drove their biggest influx into Bangladesh, as suggested by Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights. At least an intelligence debriefing by our security agencies, to take stock of any information they have, would not be a bad place to start.

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