Bangladesh border guards’ mutiny over: Government (Roundup)

February 26th, 2009 - 8:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 26 (IANS) The 33-hour mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers ended Thursday evening as the rebels laid down their arms in the face of an imminent attack by the army, which had moved tanks into position for an assault on the BDR headquarters here.
“The situation is under complete control of the government,” an official spokesman said.

Police officers entered the BDR compound and took control of the main entrance, reported.

Police vehicles were seen entering the compound at 6.31 p.m (6.01 p.m. in India), the report said.

The prime minister’s deputy press secretary Nakib Uddin Ahmed told the media at 7 p.m. that an armed police batallion had taken control of the armoury at BDR headquarters.

An aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said earlier in the afternoon all the rebellious BDR personnel had surrendered and that the situation was under control.

At around 4.45 p.m., Home Minister Sahara Khatun entered the BDR headquarters for the second time during the siege to negotiate the surrender, as white flags started to go up from the windows of the besieged complex.

Before that, an agreement with the government to resolve the impasse had floundered as the mutiny spread to other parts of the country with at least 50 deaths reported.

Tanks rolled on the roads leading to the BDR headquarters in the capital city Thursday evening and army personnel took up positions.

Hours after mutineers held talks with the government, army personnel fired several shots on the way to the headquarters, the nerve centre of the revolt.

Residents of the surrounding areas were evacuated.

The mutiny by troopers of the Bangladesh Rifles, the country’s border guards, spread to several towns Thursday despite Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s warning of stern action to quell the unrest.

The fate of BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed and other senior army officers missing since Wednesday was not known yet.

“Please go back to barracks. Do not force me to take any stern action in the interest of the nation,” the prime minister told the BDR mutineers in a nationwide address.

Hasina, who took office last month, combined emotion with prudence, calling on all to exercise tolerance. But she did not mince words to warn of tough measures if needed.

There were reports of BDR troopers exchanging fire with army personnel and taking control of the camps at Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Feni and Naogaon.

There were also reports of chaos at Chittagong, Khulna, Satkhira, Jaipurhat, Thakurgaon and Bandarban battalions.

The mutiny, which began Wednesday morning, had appeared to wane that evening after Hasina declared a general amnesty, but picked up again in the early hours of Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, a close Hasina confidante, told mediapersons Thursday morning the troopers had agreed to surrender their arms if army officials were withdrawn from all the BDR posts across the country.

During the meeting, the rebel troopers reportedly accepted the leadership of BDR deputy assistant director Touhidul Islam.

Political observers said the government’s dilemma was that it was banking on the army to stop the rebellion, while the troopers’ grievances are largely centred on poor wages and discrimination as compared to the army.

The authorities Thursday ordered jamming of mobile networks throughout the country, except in parts of the capital.

State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam said that the death toll was likely to be 50. As many as 15,000 troopers of the 67,000 strong paramilitary force took part in the rebellion.

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

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 border outposts as the army officials there felt shaky with troopers focusing on the situation in Dhaka without concentrating on their daily patrol, said reports reaching here.

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