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Bangladesh Agrees to Pardon Rebel Border Guards if They End Mutiny 

Bangladesh's government is granting amnesty to mutinous border guards in exchange for them agreeing to peacefully return to their barracks. Bangladeshi media say several civilians were killed and two army colonels died in the early stage of the mutiny by the paramilitary group The Bangladesh Rifles. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quickly stepped in to try to defuse her first crisis since returning to power two months ago.  She agreed to pardon border guards who rebelled earlier in the day, clashing with their army commanders at the Dhaka headquarters of the para-military force.

Speaking to reporters in Dhaka, one of the rebel representatives, identified as Bangladesh Rifles deputy assistant director Touhid, confirms a tentative deal has been made to end the mutiny.

Touhid says the rebels will surrender their weapons on Thursday because the prime minister has agreed to look into their demands.

A government spokesman tells VOA News that in exchange for a promise to end the mutiny, the rebels will not be charged and their grievances will be addressed in phases.

The border guards are demanding better pay and the removal of army officers from command of the Bangladesh Rifles, known as the BDR.

The agreement came after 14 rebels went to the prime minister's official residence for negotiations while gunshots continued to ring out at the BDR compound.

The army had earlier surrounded the campus-like BDR headquarters.  Gunfire and occasional mortar blasts could be heard for several hours. 

The mutiny threw part of Bangladesh's capital into panic, schoolchildren were trapped inside the compound as the army and border guards exchanged fire.  A nearby shopping center was also reported to have been seized by mutineers.

Analysts point out that the BDR paramilitary force has long felt aggrieved 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 this type of mutiny by the BDR appears 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," said Sreeradha Datta. "But BDR, I do not 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.  

Prime Minister Hasina visited the BDR headquarters Tuesday to urge 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.

The mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles prompted India to heighten an alert along the shared 4,000-kilometer border.

The director-general of India's Border Security Force, Mahendra Lal Kumawat, says no incidents have been reported.

"We have asked our officers and men to remain fully alert, vigilant and watch the situation along the border and take appropriate action in case action is needed," said Mahendra Lal Kumawat.

The external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters the mutiny is an internal matter of Bangladesh but India wishes her neighbor all success in dealing with it.

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