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Paramilitary soldiers revolt, Bangladesh tense

Last updated on: February 25, 2009 14:39 IST

A rebellion broke out in the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Pilkhana area in Dhaka on Wednesday and heavy firing was reported from the complex as the army was called out to quell the revolt. There were reports of heavy gunfire from the complex where a 'darbar' was on between senior officers of the force and the troopers, officials and witnesses said.

A major fire was also reported with heavy smoke rising from the complex. BDR soldiers, according to reports, had opened fire on their officers, apparently over pay disputes.

Some of the personnel also reportedly stormed out of the complex and seized a nearby shopping mall, TV channels reported. Army and police personnel surrounded the headquarters while air force helicopters hovered overhead the Pilkhana barracks in central Dhaka. Heavy firing could be heard and smoke was seen rising from the complex, said an army officer.

The army issued a stern warning calling on the mutinous soldiers to 'surrender and to go back to barracks'. Though there were no immediate reports about casualties inside the BDR headquarters, relatives of BDR soldiers inside the barrack said they came to know there were heavy casualties. One civilian was killed and scores injured in the gunfire outside the complex.

A statement issued by the army inter-services public relations told the BDR soldiers to lay down their weapons in the 'greater interest of the country'. The army told the rebelling personnel that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would herself talk to BDR soldiers and listen to their problems.

"Stern legal actions will be taken against you if you take the law in your own hand even after this call," the army warned the BDR personnel. Eye-witnesses said law enforcement agencies were clearing the streets, giving rise to a speculation that there could be an army crackdown to end the rebellion.

Military sources said that it was the rebellion of non-commissioned officers and soldiers against their seniors. Officials inside the BDR headquarters could not be reached as they kept their phones switched off.

People were heard screaming, some of them apparently in pain, as a senior BDR official switched on his cell phone. "We are under siege, try to save us," another BDR official briefly told a journalist and then hung up.

A local TV correspondent reporting live from the scene said guards came out of their barracks and seized the conference hall where the meeting was being held. Several bystanders outside the complex were injured and taken to the state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Another private TV channel reported that one unidentified rickshaw puller was killed and six people including pedestrians were admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital with bullet injuries as they were apparently passing by the BDR barracks, prompting police to stop vehicular movement around the barracks.

After independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has had a history of coups and counter-coups.

Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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