Bangladesh Prime Minister Issues Warning to Mutinous Border Guards

Army tanks rolled into Dhaka Thursday afternoon and took positions outside the headquarters of Bangladesh's border force following a call by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina for rebels inside to lay down their weapons. The government and the army are in a second day of attempting to quell a mutiny by the paramilitary soldiers which spread outside the capital. Although there has been no official death toll some officials say they believe more than 50 people have died in the violence which began Wednesday morning.

As the mutiny of Bangladesh border guards re-ignited with fresh reports of uprisings outside the capital, the country's prime minister, Sheik Hasina, took to the airwaves with a stern appeal to the mutineers not to take a "suicidal" route.

In a nationally broadcast address, the prime minister promised to look into the grievances of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles. Thus, they should surrender their weapons and return to their barracks. If they did not, Sheik Hasina warned, she would be forced to take "tough action" in the interest of the nation.

The mutiny began early Wednesday at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles in Dhaka. The clash left dead a number of their Army officer supervisors, apparently slain by the rebel soldiers.

The paramilitary border force has tens of thousands of guards, who are posted at 64 camps throughout Bangladesh. The rebels say they resent having Army officers always appointed as their commanders and want better pay in wake of rising food prices.

Reports of guards firing their weapons along the border with India prompted fresh concern here. India and Bangladesh share a four-thousand kilometer long border that is porous and poorly demarcated in some places.  

India's home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, says the the country's Border Security Force - the BSF - will remain vigilant.

"I don't think that the BDR-Army dispute in Bangladesh will spill over into our border. Our BSF is on the alert and there is no threat on the border," said  Chidambaram.

Mobile phone operators in Bangladesh say they were ordered Thursday by the government to switch off service except in some areas of the capital. That is apparently an attempt to keep rebelling guard units around the country from communicating with each other.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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