Bangladesh rejects Myanmar 'proposal' to link migrant return to freeing guard

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's border guard said on Monday it turned down a proposal it said Myanmar had made to return a captured officer if Dhaka also took in some 600 illegal migrants from a people trafficking ship intercepted by the Myanmar navy. Bangladesh's Foreign Ministry has already summoned the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka and lodged a strong protest to ask for the immediate release of Abdur Razzak. Razzak was seized and another Bangladeshi guard was wounded by Myanmar forces on June 17 after the two sides exchanged gunfire while chasing drug smugglers on the Naff River separating the two countries. Border Guard Bangladesh battalion commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Abu Jar Al Jahid said the countries had agreed last year that any soldiers straying across the border should be handed back after senior officers held a so-called "flag meeting" at the frontier. But on this occasion, he said, Myanmar wanted to link the handover to the return of the migrants. Jahid said his counterpart, the commander in Border Guard Police in Maungdaw, Myanmar, had made the proposal. "We have rejected the proposal as this can not be linked with trafficking victims," Jahid told Reuters. "Instead, we proposed a flag meeting to settle the issues." Officials at Myanmar's embassy in Dhaka and at the ambassador's residence were not immediately available for comment. Jahid said Myanmar wanted Bangladesh to identify around 600 of the 727 migrants picked up from the ship intercepted by the Myanmar navy on May 29 as Bangladeshi nationals and take them back as part of the deal. Thousands of people, many of them Bangladeshi or Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, have taken to the sea in recent months in dangerously crowded boats run by people-traffickers, heading south toward other southeast Asian countries. Previously, Myanmar has said nearly all of them were Bangladeshis seeking better economic prospects, rather than Rohingya, a group who complain of severe discrimination and mistreatment in Myanmar. (Reporting by Serajul Quadir and Mohammad Nurul Islam in Cox's Bazar; Editing by Alison Williams)