Hasina meets army officers, death toll may cross 100 (Lead)

March 1st, 2009 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, March 1 (IANS) A sombre Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Sunday held “an emotion-charged meeting” with Bangladeshi army officers, whose colleagues accounted for most of the over 100 reported killed by border guards who rebelled last week over poor pay and working conditions.
As the police filed a case against five ringleaders and more than 1,000 others of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the agonising search for the many missing army officers continued at the BDR headquarters and its vicinity in Dhaka — the venue of the Feb 25-26 bloody mutiny.

Hasina, who took office only in January and who holds the defence portfolio as well, faced “quite a few awkward questions” from the officers of the regular army, media reports said.

For the first time since the uprising was quelled, the figure of the dead was being put at over 100. A private news agency, bdnews24, said as many as 135 people, mostly army officers, had been killed.

Most bodies were recovered from mass graves as well as sewer drains.

BDR personnel went on a killing spree after accusing the army officers, who head the paramilitary outfit, of not doing anything to improve their pay and working conditions.

The slaughter of the army personnel has numbed Bangladesh, where the military has repeatedly seized power since the country became independent in 1971.

The prime minister heard the officers and explained at length the actions the government took to end the rebellion. She spent over three hours at the meeting, Star Online said.

There was no official briefing of what transpired at the meeting, which was held at the army headquarters.

The government has launched a massive hunt for BDR troopers, hundreds of who fled Dhaka even before the rebellion ended. On Saturday, the Lalbagh police station here filed a case against over 1,000 BDR mutineers.

Five men were specifically named, including Touhidul Alam, a deputy assistant director of BDR who led the group that met Hasina on Wednesday, hours after the uprising began.

Hasina had declared an amnesty as demanded by the rebels but has since said that the killers would be punished.

Police officer Nobojyoti Khisha also named BDR’s deputy assistant director Nasiruddin Khan, Mirza Mahbubur Rahman, Abdur Rahim and two others for the cold-blooded killings.

Over 15,000 of BDR’s 67,000 personnel were at the headquarters on the mutiny day. But only 20-25 men took the lead in the killings while forcing others to join them, some reports say.

Political differences have surfaced over the probe into the mutiny. The government has said the investigation would take only a week and a special tribunal would try the men who rebelled.

As ministers continued to blame “vested interest” and “outside forces” for the bloodbath, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) demanded an all-party probe into the mutiny.

BNP chief and former prime minister Khaleda Zia described as a “great strategic mistake” Hasina’s announcement of amnesty. Hasina’s Awami League in turn asked Zia why she was silent for so long.

The revolt ended Feb 26 evening in the face of an imminent attack by the Bangladesh Army.

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