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Bangladesh jails 665 more paramilitary soldiers

August 28, 2012 19:44 IST

A Bangladeshi paramilitary court handed down jail terms of varying degrees to 665 rebel border guards for their roles in the 2009 BDR mutiny, as the country nears the completion of trials of soldiers who were accused of minor mutiny charges.

"The special (paramilitary) court today handed down rigorous imprisonment ranging between four months to seven years to 665 jawans of 44 Rifles Battalion," state prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Zakir Hossain told newsmen.

The erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is now called Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after an exercise to revamp the force after the February 25-26 carnage at the frontier force's Pilkhana headquarters in the capital in 2009.

While the trial of soldiers, who were accused of minor offences like looting, was being held in paramilitary courts, a parallel trial is underway in a civil court that is trying the 'core culprits' accused of slaughtering 74 people, including 57 army officers.

Hossain said the court headed by BGB's Colonel Ehia Azam Khan also simultaneously fined each of the convicts Taka 100 and acquitted eight soldiers as allegations brought against them were not proved under the BDR Act.

Journalists who witnessed the procedure at the makeshift court inside the Pilkhana said the convicts were whisked away in police vans to be brought initially to the high security Dhaka Central Jail.

BGB officials said the six special paramilitary courts have so far completed trial of rebel soldiers in 56 out of 57 units of the frontier force, handing down imprisonment of different terms to more than 5,000 out of suspected 6,054 border guards.

The rebel soldiers staged the rebellion at Pilkhana at the heart of the capital city on February 25, 2009 but the mutiny quickly spread at sector headquarters and regional units of the frontier force across the country. The casualties took place only at Pilkhana.

Bangladesh last year renamed the mutiny-infested force and changed its laws, uniform, flag and monogram.

The new law or BGB Act laid out death penalty for mutiny, replacing the previous BDR Act that prescribed only seven years of imprisonment as the highest punishment for ordinary disobedience or breach of command.

The provision of lenient punishment under the previous BDR Act required the trial of the "core culprits" of the 2009 mutiny under the country's civil Penal Code for "murder charges".

The prosecution lawyers at the sessions' judge's court, where the suspected "main massacre culprits" are being tried, said they expected the trial of the 847 detained accused to be completed by the year-end under the penal code which lays out the highest death penalty for the convicts.

"It is clearly understood that the government is very active to complete the trial and so far we have not faced any obstacle from the defence side to disrupt the trial process...we expect it to be completed by the yearend," chief prosecution lawyer of the case Advocate Anisul Haque earlier told PTI.

The authorities earlier scrapped the annual month-long vacation of the Dhaka Sessions Judge's Court to allow for undisrupted trial. Several hundred witnesses have already testified before the court.

A government committee report said "a certain quarter" of soldiers had staged the mutiny exploiting a sense of deprivation of the ordinary BDR soldiers but only a few BDR men knew about the plot to kill.

Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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