Mutiny spreads in Bangladesh, PM warns of stern action (Fourth Lead)

February 26th, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 26 (IANS) The mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers, who battled the army Wednesday, 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 an address broadcast to the nation.

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.

While there was calm in the national capital where the BDR headquarter is located, 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.

The talks between the BDR troopers and the government that began here Thursday morning appeared to be showing some results.

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close Hasina confidante, told mediapersons that the troopers had agreed to surrender their arms if army officials were withdrawn from all the BDR posts across the country, Star Online reported.

After holding talks at the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana area of Dhaka through the morning, the government team sat with a 10-member delegation of rebel BDR troopers at Ambala Inn, a nearby hotel, and successfully completed the meeting at about 11.30 a.m., United News of Bangladesh (UNB) reported.

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

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