Bangladesh standoff heads for a climax (Fifth Lead)February 26th, 2009 - 7:32 pm ICT by IANS
Dhaka, Feb 26 (IANS) Tanks moved into position to prepare for an assault on the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters where mutinous troopers, who had battled the army Wednesday, were holed up. An agreement with the government to resolve the impasse seemed to flounder 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 gunshots 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 as Prime minister Sheikh Hasina warned 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 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, appeared to wane after Hasina declared a general amnesty, but picked up in the early hours of Thursday.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, a close Hasina confidante, told mediapersons the troopers had agreed to surrender their arms if army officials were withdrawn from all the BDR posts across the country.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 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.
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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