Bangladesh border guard mutiny appears to spread

At least 10 people have been confirmed dead in Dhaka, but officials fear up to 50 people may have been killed there.

bangladesh soldier 88 (photo credit: )
bangladesh soldier 88
(photo credit: )
A deadly mutiny over pay that began with border guards in the Bangladesh capital apparently spread around the country Thursday, with shootings reported at several guard posts, police and witnesses said. The renewed shooting came hours after officials announced that a 20-hour mutiny of guards in the capital had ended. Mutineers fired shots at the commanding officer's residence at a border guard post in the southern town of Tekhnaf early Thursday, sending him fleeing, said police official Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury. Witnesses said violence also erupted at border guard posts in Cox's Bazar, Chittagong and Naikhongchari in the south, Sylhet in the northeast, Rajshahi and Naogaon in the northwest. In Chittagong, dozens of mutineers blocked a road and forced traffic to a halt, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the new round of violence. At least 10 people have been confirmed dead in Dhaka, but officials fear up to 50 people may have been killed there. On Thursday morning, the bodies of seven border guards - two of them of officers - were found outside the violence-wrecked headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles, the official name of the paramilitary border forces, doctors at a local hospital said. Border guards first mutinied Wednesday at the agency's headquarters in Dhaka, but agreed later to surrender after the government said it would grant them amnesty and discuss their grievances. The insurrection was the result of longtime frustrations over pay for the border guards that didn't keep pace with that of the army's - highlighted by rising food prices in the chronically poor South Asian country as the global economic crisis grows. The border guards in Dhaka began surrendering Thursday after a mutiny that saw guards turn weapons on senior officers and seize a nearby shopping center. Bangladesh's Home Minister Shahara Khatun received about a dozen automatic rifles from surrendering mutineers at the Dhaka headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles. TV reports showed guards filing out of buildings in the compound and laying down arms one by one. "The guards have begun surrendering arms after we have offered amnesty to them," Khatun told reporters while leaving the compound, adding that he believed the surrender would be complete later Thursday. He spoke before the latest round of shooting erupted in other cities. Some 42,000 guards are posted at 64 Bangladesh Rifles camps throughout the country. Government officials were still meeting Thursday with mutineers in Dhaka and expected the surrender there to be completed in the mid-afternoon, government negotiator Fazle Noor Tapash said. About 4,000 guards were believed in the compound, and it was not immediately clear how many had surrendered. The home minister also had overseen the earlier evacuation of about 50 women and children - mostly relatives of officers - trapped in homes inside the compound since the revolt erupted early Wednesday. The guards had opened fire on superior officers at a meeting and seized a nearby shopping mall. Army troops were called in to surround both complexes, and the guards agreed to surrender when the government said it would grant them amnesty and discuss their demands. There were conflicting reports about the death toll in the mutiny. Hospital doctors confirmed ten people dead. Among the dead were three bystanders, including a rickshaw driver. At least 20 people were injured. But Junior Law Minister Quamrul Islam told reporters early Thursday that "It's our guess at least 50 people may have died" in the violence. His remarks came after a visit to the compound, but he acknowledged that the figure was unconfirmed. "We have not seen any bodies," he added. During Wednesday's standoff, one guard in combat dress, his face covered in a yellow handkerchief, emerged from the compound and told television reporters that the army had "more facilities than what we get." "Army troops are sent abroad to work in U.N. peacekeeping missions and they get fat salaries," he said. "But they don't take border guard personnel for peacekeeping. That's discrimination." "The prime minister has announced amnesty for those involved in the trouble. We now hope to lay down our arms and go back to barracks," mutineer spokesman Mohammed Towhid said Wednesday. Guards rely on government rations of rice, flour and sugar to supplement their incomes of about $100 per month, and food prices have risen some 30 percent in recent months. The guards get the rations for just three months, but regular soldiers receive rations all year.