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News from Bangladesh: 1,000 Bangladeshi border guards charged with murder after mutiny

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  • Zafar Khan
    1,000 Bangladeshi border guards charged with murder after mutiny Bloody revolt has left almost 150 people, most of them army officers, dead or missing Agencies
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2009
      1,000 Bangladeshi border guards charged with murder after mutiny
      Bloody revolt has left almost 150 people, most of them army officers, dead or missing
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 1 March 2009 16.44 GMT


      Bangladeshi police today charged more than 1,000 border guards with murder and arson after a bloody mutiny in the capital left almost 150 people dead or missing, most of them army officers.

      The government announced plans to form a special tribunal to try the guards who organised the mutiny.

      Only 33 of a total of 181 officers are known to have survived the uprising, which happened at the Bangladesh Rifles border force headquarters in Dhaka, Brigadier General Mahmud Hossain, an army spokesman, said.

      Teams were today continuing to search the compound and nearby sewers for more bodies, including those of 71 people still unaccounted for.

      Most of the missing were presumed dead, Sheikh Mohammad Shajalal, a firefighter overseeing the search, said.

      Nobojyoti Khisa, a Dhaka metropolitan police official, said the authorities had filed murder and arson cases against more than 1,000 border guards.

      It was unclear whether those guards would face the special tribunal or other courts.

      The insurrection apparently erupted over the border guards' longstanding complaints that their pay had not kept pace with the salaries of army soldiers.

      The crisis has raised questions about the stability of prime minister Sheikh Hasina's two-month-old government in a country which has seen nearly two dozen successful and failed military coups in its 38-year history.

      Hasina ended the two-day standoff by persuading the guards to surrender with promises of an amnesty coupled with threats of military force. Tanks rolled into Dhaka's streets before the insurrection ended on Thursday.

      Later, the government said those directly responsible for the mutiny and massacre would not fall under the amnesty.

      Hundreds of guards began reporting back to their headquarters today, all claiming they had no part in the mutiny.

      They went back after the Home Ministry gave them a 24-hour ultimatum to return to their posts, report to police stations or face disciplinary action.

      The guards waited outside as officials checked their credentials. Some said they were on leave or off duty during the mutiny, while others claimed they had fled the compound after the violence started.

      "Why should I be afraid of returning to work? I was not involved in the incident. I left to go to my family outside after the shooting began," one guard, who refused to give his name, said.

      The government decided on the tribunal at a Cabinet meeting late last night, Syed Ashraful Islam, a ruling party spokesman, said.

      He said initial evidence suggested the mutinous guards may have had outside assistance, but did not elaborate.

      Hasina addressed a gathering of army officers inside military headquarters today. Details of the meeting were not immediately available.

      On Friday, the army chief, General Moeen Ahmed, met Hasina and reassured her of the military's support for her government.

      Bangladesh returned to democracy after elections in late December 2008, nearly two years after an army-backed interim government took over amid street protests demanding electoral reforms.

      Death toll rises to 75 as mutiny sparks crisis in Bangladesh

      In its first serious test, the Hasina government vows to bring escaped border guards to justice

      By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent

      Sunday, 1 March 2009


      More bodies thrown into mass graves were discovered yesterday as the death toll from a mutiny among border guards in Bangladesh rose to at least 75, with dozens of officers still missing.

      Firefighters in Dhaka, the capital, said at least nine further bodies had been found in two shallow graves at the border guards' headquarters compound. Among the dead was the group's commanding officer, Major-General Shakil Ahmed.

      Widespread searches were under way, both for more remains and for mutinous guards who have dressed in civilian clothes and fled their barracks. "We think there are more bodies," said a firefighter, Sheikh Mohammad Shahjalal.

      The border guards, known officially as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), launched a two-day mutiny last week following months of simmering complaints over pay and conditions.

      The 40,000-strong unit, responsible for securing the country's borders, said it had long been treated worse than regular troops, and complained that its officers were not drawn from its own ranks. The guards also complained that they were ineligible for peacekeeping duties with the UN, a high-paying mission much coveted in a country struggling with poverty.

      It appears that the revolt had been planned for some time, and was timed to take place when officers from across the country were attending a meeting in the capital. Witnesses told how the guards, armed with automatic weapons, had burst in on the officers and lined them up before spraying them with gunfire. The bodies were then thrown into quickly dug graves or stuffed into drains around the compound.

      The mutiny has proved a serious test for Bangladesh's newly elected Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. She was sworn in two months ago after an election in December that ended two years of emergency rule by an interim, military-backed government. Having pleaded with the mutinous guards to lay down their arms and avoid unnecessary bloodshed, she offered an amnesty to those who surrendered, but vowed that those responsible for murder would not escape justice.

      Rebellion and insurrection among the armed forces is nothing new in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister, serving her second term, is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's independence leader and its first head of state, who was shot dead by military officers in a 1975 coup. His wife and three sons were also killed, but Ms Hasina was out of the country at the time.

      "It's a setback for Sheikh Hasina's new government. It's now a test for her how she handles the military," Ataur Rahman, a political analyst, told the Associated Press. "This tragic event will force her to divert attention from consolidating democracy and boosting the economy to tackling the challenges of national security."

      Bangladesh's army chief, General Moeen U Ahmed, met Ms Hasina at her Dhaka home on Friday evening, and later promised that his troops would back her civilian leadership. "It's a national crisis. The military will stand by the government," he said.

      Troops are still scouring Bangladesh for those guards involved in the mutiny, with roadblocks and checks on the country's numerous ferries.

      The government has set up a committee to investigate the causes of the mutiny and establish why it had not been anticipated. Representatives from the army are to be included on the committee. A special tribunal will try those responsible for the killings.

      Bangladeshi army officers' bodies found as death toll from rebellion rises to 70


      Crackdown Ends Hasina Mutiny Test


      DHAKA — Hundreds of border troops were arrested on Friday, February 27, in a nationwide manhunt for mutineers who staged a bloody two-day revolt, seen as the first major test of Sheik Hasina's premiership.
      "We have arrested nearly 200 Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troops who fled their barracks in civilian dress," Commander Abul Kalam Azad, a spokesman for the elite Rapid Action Battalion, told Agence France Presse (AFP).

      "We were given orders to arrest the mutineers."

      The mutinous guards laid down their weapons a day earlier after Sheik Hasina threatened that their "suicidal" path could only end in bloodshed.

      Azad said checkpoints have been set up at all routes leading out of Dhaka and surrounding the BDR barracks.

      "We are searching buses and trucks for any other rebel troops."

      Authorities uncovered Friday 38 dead bodies of senior army officers, including BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed, in a mass grave.

      A further 28 bodies were found, including some pulled from sewers and manholes.

      Despite Hasina's earlier promise of an amnesty, authorities said those who had killed would not get off lightly.

      "These senior military personnel have been killed in a planned and calculated manner. It's a grisly slaughter. We will punish these criminals," cabinet minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.

      Three days of national mourning were declared from Friday.

      The mutinous BDR guards were protesting the refusal of senior officers to consider appeals for more pay, subsidized food and holidays.

      Some have accused the officers of skimming off their salaries and appropriating food supplies meant for distribution to the poor.

      Leadership Test

      Sheik Hasina, struggling to achieve political stability in the country, drew praise for bringing a swift end to the mutiny.

      "It was a critical test, but I think in the end she tackled it competently," Manzoor Hasan, the director of BRAC University's Institute of Governance Studies in Dhaka, told AFP.

      The mutiny was the first major crisis Hasina has faced since her landslide election victory in late December, which ended two years of army-backed rule.

      Hasan praised Sheik Hasina, who was previously premier between 1996 and 2001, for her strong leadership during a televised national address on Thursday.

      Retired major-general Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, a defense analyst, agreed.

      "Premier Hasina has tackled a huge problem efficiently and saved the nation from what could be a disaster," he told Reuters.

      "She has proved her resolve, personal credibility and leadership."

      But many believe the revolt has highlighted the frustrations felt by many in Bangladesh, which suffers from high food prices and a slowing economy.

      Ataur Rahman, political professor at Dhaka University, said the new government could not afford to ignore underlying causes of long-term discontent, especially the twin scourges of poverty and corruption.

      "There are so many issues facing this country that it can be daunting for leaders, but they should not forget the issues facing the people."

      Dhaka mutineers 'to be punished'


      Troops find more victims of Bangladesh mutiny


      Bangladesh mutiny 'spreading'


      Mutiny reveals Bangladesh chaos
      By Ranjit Bhaskar
      Friday, February 27, 2009


      The mutiny by Bangladesh's border security forces in the capital Dhaka has brought back the spectre of violence that has marked the country's recent political history.

      That the army had to be called out to quell the uprising just weeks after December's election is an important reminder that the country's political situation remains complex and fragile despite the restoration of democratic rule.

      Analysts had warned prior to the elections that any unrest could distract the poll winners from implementing much-needed economic reforms and discourage prospective investment.

      They also voiced concern about the military's role once an elected government took charge.

      The assumption at that time was that the army would remain behind the scenes for a while to see if the new government could tackle endemic corruption and avoid violence.

      Overt role

      Now that violence on such a dramatic scale has erupted in the centre of Dhaka, the generals may feel compelled to attempt a more overt role.

      However, conflicts elsewhere in the world are likely to persuade the Bangladeshi army to leave governance at home to the politicians.

      The incentive it has for doing so is that minimum local involvement means maximum flexibility to serve in various overseas UN peacekeeping missions.

      Those missions, in which Bangladesh often has the largest contingent, generate compensatory payments to the country as well as salaries for the participating soldiers and officers salaries far above what they earn at home.

      This very disparity could be a factor behind the current mutiny.

      The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), whose primary duty is border security, by the very nature of its job does not often get to share the UN bounty. It also does not have any officers of its own. Commissioned officers from the army do that job.

      According to local media, BDR troops are demanding better wages, more food subsidies and additional holidays.

      Major-General Shakil Ahmed, the BDR chief, has previously refused to listen to his troops' demands.

      "It seems to be a mutiny of BDR troops" against their regular army officers, an armed forces spokesman said.

      Coups and instability

      The mainly Muslim but secular country of 144 million, formerly known as East Pakistan, has a history of instability, coups and countercoups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

      It experienced credible democracy for a while. But faced with serious economic and social crises, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's founder president, assumed authoritarian powers. Shortly afterwards, in 1975, soldiers mounted a coup, killing Mujib and wiping out his family as well as his cabinet.

      After years of rule by army generals in and out of uniform, Sheikh Hasina, Mujibur Rahman's daughter, and Khaleda Zia, the widow of Ziaur Rahman, another slain president, alternated as prime ministers over a 15-year period that ended in late 2006.

      Those times were marked by chaos, boycotts of parliament by losing parties, lack of compromise, bad faith and mudslinging, and deadly violence inflicted by and on political partisans.

      "Regardless of who wins the election, the next government and the opposition parties will face the challenges of making parliament work and contending with an army that wants a greater say in politics," the International Crisis Group, which tracks conflicts worldwide, had warned in December.

      While the sense of déjà vu may bring back prophesies of doom, it is still too early for the army to overtly exercise its influence.

      The money involved in terms of much-needed foreign aid for the country and the UN peacekeeping earnings will discourage the military from taking on a more central role at least for now.
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