Bangladesh: Hundreds of fleeing border guards detained

At least 22 people killed as nearly 2,000 guards open fire on their senior officers and seize their headquarters to protest poor pay and conditions.

Bangladesh mutiny 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bangladesh mutiny 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Security forces have detained hundreds of fleeing border guards and set up roadblocks across the country since a bloody two-day revolt against military officers left at least 22 people dead, officials said Friday. The border guards, whose unit rose up against their commanders earlier this week, have been promised amnesty, but it was not clear if that would apply to guards who fled their bases. Soon after tanks rolled into Dhaka and intimidated the mutinous border guards, who had seized their main compound in the capital, into laying down their arms, many mutineers fled under cover of darkness, according to Abdul Kashem, an official of the mutinous Bangladesh Rifles, the official name of the paramilitary border force. Commander A.K. Azad, a spokesman for the elite Rapid Action Battalion, said more than 230 mutineers - most dressed in civilian clothing - were rounded up Thursday night on the outskirts of Dhaka. Another battalion official, M. Morshed, said security forces had arrested 68 more mutineers near the town of Savar, 40 kilometers northwest of Dhaka. Security forces have set up highway checkpoints to search buses, and are also searching ferries as they look for more mutineers, officials said. Dozens of families - particularly those related to senior border guard officers - still did not know what had happened to their relatives and they gathered Thursday as police continued to retrieve bodies from the main border guard base. "Let me talk to my father. Where is my father?" cried 10-year-old Mohammad Rakib, standing outside the devastated headquarters of the border agency. Rakib was with his mother looking for his father, Capt. Mohammad Shamim. Nearly 2,000 guards opened fire on their senior officers and seized their headquarters in the capital Wednesday to protest poor pay and conditions. Twenty-two bodies, many of them senior officers of Bangladesh Rifles, the country's border force, have been found, said fire official Dilip Kumar Ghosh. He said 34 officers and men were rescued after the mutineers surrendered and firefighters were searching for at least 65 more missing people. Ghosh said two of the bodies - a man and a woman - were found at the home of the border force's chief, Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, but that the commander was not one of them. One officer said earlier that he saw Ahmed killed immediately after the mutiny began Wednesday. "I was confronted by the soldiers three times, but I have survived," that officer, Lt. Col. Syed Kamruzzaman, told ATN Bangla television station. "Allah has saved me from the face of death." Authorities would not comment on the chief's whereabouts. The mutinous guards had agreed to surrender after the government promised Wednesday to give them amnesty and look into their demands. But as the process stalled and the revolt appeared to be spreading to other areas Thursday, recently elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned the rebels she would "do whatever is needed to end the violence." Hours later, tanks and armored vehicles with heavy machine guns rolled into the capital, taking up positions in residential neighborhoods around the border guards' compound. Apparently intimidated, the guards hoisted a white flag Thursday afternoon and resumed laying down their arms. 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 guards make about $100 a month. Their resentment has been heightened by the practice of appointing army officers to head the border guards. The border guards also do not participate in UN peacekeeping missions, which bring additional pay. The army plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh, and only recently allowed the country of 150 million return to civilian rule. There have been 19 failed coup attempts since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, and two presidents have been killed in military takeovers.