Chilling tales emerge as Bangladesh mutiny toll crosses 80 (Roundup)February 28th, 2009 - 8:40 pm ICT by IANS
Dhaka, Feb 28 (IANS) More mass graves, more stories of savagery, and more chilling tales of survival. The full horror of the mutiny at the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters here continued to unravel Saturday, with the death toll climbing to over 80, even as the country was steeped in mourning.
Not only were 10 more bodies, including that of a woman, recovered from two mass graves, but around 50 army officers are still said to be missing after the bloody revolt Wednesday that saw BDR troopers turning on their own officers - who are drawn from the army - over poor salary and working conditions.
Bangladesh, which is observing a three-day morning period till Sunday, is yet to come to terms with what happened. Those who fell prey to the bloodbath were army officers - including BDR Director General Major General Shakil Ahmed - as well as their relatives.
Apparently, there was no single leader of the mutiny. All soldiers of the small lead group seemed to be leaders in their own right - in brutality and all from a force whose main task is to protect the country’s borders.
Words of reassurance have come from, among others, army chief General Moin U. Ahmed who told Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina: “Rumours are swirling… but the army belongs to you.”
“What happened was a catastrophe that has caused an irreparable loss to not only the army but also the country. We will have to think how we can overcome it.
“Think about the children who lost their fathers or the wives who lost their husbands or their relatives,” he was quoted as saying.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon also condemned the incident Saturday.
The mutiny, which was finally quelled by Thursday evening, here has spawned horror stories of how soldiers were forced to fire at their colleagues while some were ordered to dig mass graves.
Major Monir, one of the few to return home after the bloody revolt, has recounted how he cheated almost certain death by smearing his face with his colleague’s blood.
“As blood gushing out of Maksud sir’s body flooded the floor, I took it in my hands, stained my face with it and pretended to be dead,” Monir told The Daily Star. Some BDR troopers came in later and left seeing the blood-spattered bodies and believing Monir and Maksud were dead.
“I watched helplessly as jawans killed officers around me… one of the officers being shot fell on me when I was in the drain.”
Arms and uniforms were strewn in the nearby areas and locals, fearing trouble and questioning by the authorities, collected them and tossed them across the compound wall of the sprawling complex.
Some of the personnel also said the mutiny bosses forced them to dig a mass grave behind the BDR mortuary Wednesday evening and dumped the bodies of dead officers.
The mutiny ended late Thursday when the rebels laid down their arms after an amnesty offer, made by Prime Minister Hasina late Wednesday, was followed by threats of stronger action as army troops backed by tanks surrounded the BDR complex in Dhaka.
It now appears that the rebellion was led by no more than 20-25 non-commissioned troopers who forced others to revolt.
Some BDR troopers broke open the armoury and forced other paramilitary personnel to take up arms as well. These included men from units outside Dhaka who had come to the headquarters to mark the BDR Week.
“If you don’t take up arms and join us, you will be shot,” a leader of the mutiny warned a colleague, who like many fled the headquarters Thursday.
He insisted that a majority of the soldiers were against the killing of so many officers.
“There were arguments between the mutiny leaders and other soldiers about the killings. Many tried to convince the leaders that all officers are not bad. But the leaders were furious,” he said.
Prime Minister Hasina and some of her ministers have hinted that “vested interests”, which they have not identified, were behind the revolt and the killings.