Mutiny spreads in Bangladesh, government holds talks (Third Lead)

February 26th, 2009 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 26 (IANS) The mutinous troopers of Bangladesh Rifles, who had battled the army Wednesday, continued their defiance Thursday, with gunshots being heard in the afternoon. Reports indicated that the mutiny could have spread to other parts of the country.
The authorities Thursday ordered jamming of mobile networks throughout the country, except in parts of the capital.

The troopers said they were ready to surrender their arms by 2 p.m. Thursday (1.30 p.m. in India) if army officials are withdrawn from all the BDR posts across the country.

However, the soldiers inside the BDR headquarters, where they staged the revolt Wednesday, started to open fire again at noon Thursday, a media report said.

Though the rebel troopers in Dhaka surrendered their arms after an amnesty offer by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wednesday evening, there were reports that the border guards had begun fighting in other towns.

There are unconfirmed reports of gunfire in the main port city of Chittagong, at Feni, on the eastern border with India, in Rajshahi in the north west, and Sylhet in the north, BBC reported.

A man claiming to be a BDR soldier in Chittagong said they had opened fire to prevent regular army units from entering their camp, unconfirmed reports say.

Another report said similar incidents had occurred at Cox’s Bazaar and Feni. In Khulna in the south, border guards have reportedly blocked a road, but no shooting has taken place.

“Fighting is raging outside the BDR camp, with troops coming on the street holding up guns and shooting,” Times Online quoted a witness as saying in Sylhet, in the northeast of the country.

Hasina Thursday met the three service chiefs and also held an emergency meeting of her cabinet and political colleagues.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Matia Choudhury and her team began talks with the rebel troopers at 9 a.m., Star Online said.

The surrender of arms by the BDR troopers began past 1 a.m. Thursday, but tension prevailed at the headquarters at Pilkhana on the outskirts of the national capital.

State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam said that the death toll was likely to be 50.

As many as 15,000 soldiers took part in the rebellion. The condition of many senior officers, including BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed, was not known.

Red Crescent Society officials at about 3 a.m. entered the headquarters to take out the women and children trapped inside as the mutinous troopers agreed to set them free.

The troopers’ grievances relate to their pay packets and working conditions. There is also a sentiment against the army from where the top brass of the BDR is drawn.

A rebel trooper was quoted by New Age as saying: “Although the military officers receive 30 percent of their salary in special allowance for serving in the Bangladesh Rifles, we get a monthly allowance of Taka 260 ($3.80 approx.) for the same job. We run the same risks.”

The BDR trooper pointed out that in case of death on duty, compensation of only Taka 50,000-100,000 was paid.

With border checkposts left unmanned and patrolling virtually abandoned by troopers who disarmed their officers at some places, neighbour India placed its Border Security Force (BSF) on full alert and monitored the developments closely.

Uncertainty prevailed in most outposts and camps as the army officials there felt shaky with troopers focusing on the situation in Dhaka without concentrating on their daily patrol, according to reports reaching here.

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