Death toll reaches 50 in Bangladesh troop mutiny (lead)

February 26th, 2009 - 8:35 am ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 26 (DPA) Bangladeshi paramilitary border troops began surrendering their weapons early Thursday, ending a 19-hour standoff that left at least 50 people dead at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters, a government minister said.
The mutiny began Wednesday morning at an annual meeting to allow soldier to air their grievances to officers, sources inside the headquarters said. The enlisted men, upset over a pay dispute, took the officers hostage.

Several hundred mutineers then took control of artillery pieces and other heavy weapons inside the 2.6-sq-km compound, located in a densely populated residential area.

“The troopers started surrendering arms to the armoury, and we hope the process will be concluded by Thursday morning,” Quamrul Islam, state minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, told reporters outside the headquarters around 4 a.m. Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday).

The death toll was expected to be around 50. Most of the dead were expected to be officers; many bodies remained inside the complex, Islam said.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed had announced a general amnesty for the mutinous troops Wednesday evening as the soldiers agreed to surrender arms and return to their barracks.

The announcement came after hours of tense negotiations that included a meeting with a delegation of 14 rebels at the prime minister’s official Jamuna residence.

Several efforts to end the standoff failed as the rebels demanded the removal of the officers, and gunfire had continued overnight.

The International Red Crescent earlier evacuated as many as 20 troopers who had suffered gunshot wounds from inside the compound.

As many as 15,000 soldiers took part in the rebellion. The condition of many senior officers, including its chief, Major General Shakil Ahmed, who heads the force of 67,000 forces, was not known.

Bangladesh returned to civilian rule in December after two years under a military-backed government.

India was closely monitoring the situation in Dhaka, diplomatic sources said. Troops along India’s border with Bangladesh have been placed on alert.

Bangladesh lies on the Bay of Bengal, encircled by Indian territory, and the two nations share a 4,096-km border.

Earlier, Home Minister Sahara Khatun negotiated the release of officers’ families, who were stranded inside the military complex during the mutiny.

State-run Bangladeshi television broadcast the departure of the relatives, mostly women and children, who appeared frightened as they boarded vehicles to wisk them from the scene.

Shopping complexes, schools and major streets around the headquarters were closed throughout Wednesday amid a heavy security presence.

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