Bangladesh charges 1,000 guards in mutiny massacre
Last updated 3-5-09 at 3:12 p.m.
By Parveen Ahmed
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladeshi police charged more than 1,000 border guards with murder and arson on March 1 after a bloody mutiny in the capital left as many as 148 people dead or missing, most of them army officers.
The government announced plans to form a special tribunal to try the guards who organized the mutiny.
Of a total of 181 officers, only 33 are known to have survived the uprising at the Bangladesh Rifles border force headquarters in Dhaka, said army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mahmud Hossain.
Teams continued searching the compound and nearby sewers Sunday for more bodies, including 71 people still unaccounted for. Most of the missing are presumed dead, said Sheikh Mohammad Shajalal, a firefighter overseeing the search.
Dhaka metropolitan police official Nobojyoti Khisa said authorities filed murder and arson cases Sunday against more than 1,000 border guards. It was unclear whether those guards would face the special tribunal or other courts.
The insurrection apparently erupted over the border guards’ long-standing complaints that their pay has not kept pace with the salaries of soldiers in the army.
The crisis has raised questions about the stability of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s two-month-old government in the South Asian country, which has seen nearly two dozen successful and failed military coups in its 38-year history.
Hasina ended the two-day standoff by persuading the guards to surrender with promises of an amnesty coupled with threats of military force — tanks rolled into Dhaka’s streets before the insurrection ended on Feb. 26.
Later, the government said those directly responsible for the mutiny and massacre would not fall under the amnesty.
Hundreds of guards began reporting back to their headquarters on Sunday — all claiming they had no part in the mutiny — after the Home Ministry gave them a 24-hour ultimatum to return to their posts, report to police, or face disciplinary action.
The guards waited outside as officials checked their credentials. Some said they were on leave or off duty during the mutiny, while others claimed they fled the compound after the violence started.
“Why should I be afraid of returning to work? I was not involved in the incident. I left to go to my family outside after the shooting began,” said one guard, who refused to give his name.
The government decided on the tribunal at a Cabinet meeting on Feb. 28, ruling party spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam said. He said initial evidence suggested that the mutinous guards may have had outside assistance, but he did not elaborate.
Hasina on Sunday addressed a ga-thering of army officers inside military headquarters. Details of the meeting were not immediately available.
On Friday, Feb. 27, army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed met with Hasina and reassured her of the military’s support for her government.
But on Saturday, Hossain, the army spokesman, said that soldiers angered by the carnage were demanding swift justice for the deaths of their officers. By law, the border force’s leadership comprises army officers.
Police said earlier that about 200 fleeing guards were arrested in and around the capital over the weekend, while those still inside the compound after the mutiny were being kept at a hospital on the premises.
Maj. Ishtiaq, who was part of the army leadership for the border force, told reporters that a border guard helped him escape the uprising.
“When the firing began, he said, ‘Sir, they will kill you, please come with me.’ It was like doomsday for me. I then went with him to his residence amid shooting all around. He gave me his clothes to hide my identity,” said Ishtiaq, who only uses one name.
“It was unbelievable when the killers rejoiced after killing the officers,” he said.
Bangladesh returned to democracy after elections in late December 2008, nearly two years after an army-backed interim government took over amid street protests demanding electoral reforms. (end)