Mutinous Bangladesh troopers agree to lay down arms (Fifth Lead)

February 25th, 2009 - 8:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 25 (IANS) The mutinous Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers, who fought a fierce battle with the army Wednesday in the heart of the capital city, agreed to surrender their arms after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced amnesty for them.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced amnesty for the BDR troopers, The Daily Star quoted State Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak as saying.

The prime minister also urged the BDR members to surrender their arms and return to barracks.

A team of 14 BDR troopers had gone to the prime minister’s official residence Jamuna for talks.

Nanak said the prime minister would hold a video conference with the BDR troopers at Pilkhana in a bid to calm the situation.

The Hasina government faced its first serious crisis Wednesday when a mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers left at least four people dead and scores injured in Dhaka.

After a half-a-day-long mayhem at the BDR headquarters at Pilkhana, a 14-member team of troopers went to meet the prime minister at her official residence, Jamuna.

The rebellious troopers claimed that there were over 20,000 of them at the headquarters.

Poor pay packets and working conditions appeared to be the cause of the rebellion.

“Everybody knows how miserably we live. We cannot work independently. We don’t have a department of our own,” an unidentified trooper, part of the delegation, was quoted by Star Online as saying.

BDR, which guards over 4,400 km long border with India and Myanmar, is headed by an army general.

Reports emanating from Dhaka said attempts during the day by army and air force personnel to enter the the BDR headquarters were thwarted by rebel soldiers sporting yellow masks and guarding all the gates.

Significantly, there was no inkling of the storm brewing as the prime minister had only a day earlier taken salute at a ceremonial parade and addressed officers and men at the BDR headquarters.

Trouble broke out at 7.45 a.m. as the national capital heard gun and mortar shots.

Huge columns of black smoke rose from the BDR complex in the heart of the capital, with some reports saying there had been an unspecified number of casualties. One of the dead was said to be an innocent rickshaw puller on a Dhaka street.

“We are under siege, try to save us!” pleaded a BDR official to a journalist before hanging up.

Soldiers who tried to storm the BDR headquarters, scene of the fighting, were thwarted by the protesting paramilitary personnel who guarded all the gates of the complex, said local residents.

“Stop firing and go back to barracks in the greater interest of the country and the image of the BDR,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s public-relations outfit had said.

Thousands of rounds of gunshots and mortar firing were heard in Dhaka. At least four army officers have been killed and dozens are held hostage, claimed one protester.

Some officials believe the death toll could be much higher as the soldiers were seen firing in all directions. A fire also raged at the BDR headquarters.

Hundreds of BDR personnel wearing red bandanas and partly covering their faces with yellow clothes crowded the gates, screaming that they had many grievances.

Army helicopters also fired shots into the BDR compound. The mutineers fired back at the choppers.

According to a television channel, heavy weapons like cannons were used to damage some buildings. Soldiers driving armoured vehicles were shooting to prevent the Rapid Action Battalion and the army from overwhelming them.

The unrest emptied large parts of otherwise perennially crowded city. All the markets close to the BDR complex remained closed.

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