Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bangladesh border guard mutiny spreads, PM to address nation

DHAKA: A deadly mutiny by members of Bangladesh's paramilitary border security force has spread to areas outside the capital Dhaka, police said on Thursday.

Police chiefs in six border districts told AFP that guards in their areas had joined a rebellion that had begun in the capital in Dhaka early Wednesday but appeared to have run its course.

"They are firing indiscriminately," said one of the police chiefs, from the northeastern Moulivibazar district. "Their commanding officer told me that he has fled the camp."

Independent Bangladeshi news channels reported rebellions in 12 border districts – or roughly a quarter of the areas where border security forces are stationed.

As many as 50 Bangladeshi army officers may have been killed in the initial uprising in Dhaka where thousands of border guards staged a mutiny over pay and working conditions, sparking fierce gun battles in the capital.

The unrest is the first major crisis that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has to face since she took office less than two months ago, after a landslide election victory that ended two years of army-backed rule.

Sheikh Hasina's office said she would address the nation on Thursday.

The mutiny appeared to have dwindled out when weeping women and children emerged from the headquarters of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in Dhaka early Thursday after the rebels began laying down their arms under an amnesty offer.

Officials said tensions in the BDR had been simmering for months but exploded into violence when senior officers dismissed appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.

Sheikh Hasina made the amnesty offer after emergency talks with the rebels in which she also agreed to look into their grievances.

Since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups.

The impoverished country was run by military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad from 1982 to 1990, before democracy was restored in 1991.

In January 2007, the army again stepped in, cancelling elections and declaring a state of emergency following months of political unrest. Democracy was restored with elections last December.

- AFP/so

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