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Bangladesh Launches Negotiations to Quell Border Guard Mutiny

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Bangladesh's government is negotiating with mutinous border guards who have clashed with their Army superiors in Dhaka.  Heavy gunfire and the booms from mortar shells caused chaos in the densely populated streets of the Bangladeshi capital.  A rickshaw puller has died and several other bystanders were wounded in the crossfire.  A number of uniformed personnel, including some senior officers, are reported to have been killed inside the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles.

Reacting to the first crisis facing her government since she returned to power two months ago, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appealed to mutinous members of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles to put down their weapons.  A delegation from the force went to her residence for negotiations. 

Fighting for their rights

One of the members of the rebellious border guards spoke to reporters.

The soldier said the mutineers are fighting for their rights, but do not want to hurt civilians because - "the common man is the asset of the nation." His comments were interrupted by the sound of gun shots and he yelled at his fellow guards to cease firing.

The army surrounded the sprawling headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles, known as the BDR, as smoke rose from inside the compound.  The gunfire and occasional mortar blasts could be heard for a period of hours.  Reporters on the scene witnessed a helicopter overhead, firing into the headquarters.

Concern about trapped schoolchildren

In addition to civilians caught in the crossfire, there is concern for schoolchildren in the compound, as well as people at a nearby shopping center reported to have been seized by mutineers, in the upscale neighborhood of Philkhana.

Some analysts attribute the clash to a long-standing grievance held by BDR guards that their commanders are solely composed of officers sent from the Army.  But research fellow Sreeradha Datta at India's Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses says such an outbreak of violence by the BDR is apparently unprecedented.

"Despite the fact that Bangladesh has a history of coups and counter-coups and there are obviously some very strong fissures in the services, especially the Army," Datta said.  "But BDR, I don't recall any such incident in the past."

The paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles force is primarily tasked with protecting the South Asian nation's borders.  It traces its history back to the late 18th Century, in British colonial times. It has more than 65,000 personnel.   

PM urges increased vigilance, discipline

The fighting comes a day after a visit to BDR headquarters by Prime Minister Hasina.  In her remarks Tuesday, she urged the troops to increase their discipline and remain vigilant to guard the country's borders.
 
Ms. Hasina, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2001, returned to power after a peaceful election in late December, succeeding a military-backed interim government.





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