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Bangladesh mutiny spreads, 50 feared killed
Anisur Rahman in Dhaka | February 26, 2009 10:12 IST
Last Updated: February 26, 2009 12:28 IST
A bloody mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles troopers on Thursday spread to areas outside Dhaka, as the death toll in the uprising over a pay dispute mounted to over 50, with retrieval of five more bodies including that of a Brigadier from Pilkhana garrison in the capital.
As the renegade BDR personnel started laying down their weapons in Dhaka in response to a general amnesty announced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [Images], reports said that BDR soldiers in the outlying provinces had also joined the rebellion.
TV channels reported that rebellion had broken out in 12 border districts where senior officers, mostly from the army, had fled. According to the police, BDR personnel in Joypurhat district indulged in indiscriminate firing.
In Dinajpur and Rangpur districts -- both sectoral headquarters of BDR -- soldiers came out of barracks and held demonstrations, but there was no report of violence.
Fifty people, including senior army officers, are feared dead in a mutiny staged by Bangladesh Rifles troops over pay dispute, even as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation.
"We fear some 50 people are dead," Junior Law Minister Quamrul Islam told reporters today outside the BDR headquarters at Polkhana in Dhaka, the scene of heavy gunbattles.
Islam did not elaborate but the sources said 35 military officers including BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed, who were serving the paramilitary forces on deputation, were still missing.
Meanwhile, Hasina has called the meeting of her senior party leaders and cabinet ministers today to discuss the situation, a day after she offered amnesty to mutineers and assured to meet the demands of the rebel troops.
A government delegation led by Home Minister Shahara Khatun came out of the BDR headquarters after an overnight stay, to oversee the weapon surrendering by the rebels which began after midnight, Islam said.
"The guards have begun surrendering arms after we offered amnesty to them," Khatun told reporters while leaving the compound today, adding that the surrender would complete by later today. Khatun personally rescued several stranded family members of the officers.
Khatun received about a dozen automatic rifles from surrendering mutineers. TV channels showed guards filing out of buildings in the compound and laying down arms, one by one. However, fresh violence was reported from many sectors and battalion headquarters of the BDR.
The fate of Major General Ahmed was still not known. The 'Prothom Alo' newspaper quoted the sources as saying that Ahmed was dead.
"We could not establish any contact with him (Ahmed)," government negotiator Fazle Noor Taposh told reporters after emerging from a three-hour talk with different groups of mutineers.
The sources on Wednesday night confirmed at least six deaths, three being civilians, but the police said five more bodies believed to be of BDR officers were recovered overnight from nearby Nababganj Embankment area alongside the Pilkhana.
Witnesses said most rebel soldiers still remained in war gears as the rebels feared military assaults as army troops continued to lay a siege around the BDR complex with artillery hardware.
They said Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury entered the complex for fresh negotiations to pursue the rebels to lay down their weapons as the negotiators earlier said the rebels were divided in several groups without having an 'organised command'.
"They are of different opinions but we talked and listened to all of them... we continued the discussions," Taposh said.