By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Myanmar has resumed construction of a fence along a border with Bangladesh, a porous boundary through which migrants --among them Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar -- have been able to travel in and out of the country relatively unchecked.
Local media had reported this week that construction had been suspended due to a lack of funds to finish the fence in Western Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, but Aung San Suu Kyi's new government emphasized Friday that it would continue.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported the deputy director-general of the president’s office, Zaw Htay, as saying that the previous government's K5.5 billion ($45.9 million) budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year had been reevaluated.
"The approved allocation of the budget for building the fence was neither cut nor reduced, and the project has resumed," Zaw Htay was quoted as saying. “All successive governments must lay emphasis on border security".
Construction of the 290-kilometer (180-mile) long fence began in 2009, and by 2015 four phases of construction had been finished.
However, 2015-2016's original budget did not include a remaining 64-kilometer stretch in impoverished Rakhine -- home to a majority of the country’s Rohingya population.
In 2013, communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims in the Rakhine left 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, around 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.
For years, the lack of a fence and lax security on the border has allowed Rohingya to flee persecution in Myanmar -- much of which human rights groups claim is state sanctioned -- to the port of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, from where they seek the help of people smugglers to take them by boat to Thailand and beyond.
On Friday, a Rakhine Buddhist resident of Ahtet Pyu Ma village in Maung Taw Township in Rakhine state described to Anadolu Agency how easy it is to cross the border.
“Although [most of] the fence was constructed, and the Naf River marks the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, we can easily enter Bangladesh,” said the villager, who for personal reasons wished to remain unnamed.
“That’s because of the long porous border and corrupt staff,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone. “If you bribe them, you can easily cross the Naf River in day time... I saw several Bengali cross the border several times after bribing the officials.”
Bengali is a term used by many people in Myanmar to describe Rohingya as it suggests they are not from Myanmar as they claim, but instead interlopers from Bangladesh.