Violence erupts in Bangladesh as border guards rebel

The mutinous security forces may surrender in exchange for amnesty.

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Fighting erupted in Bangladesh on Wednesday as aggrieved border security forces mutinied against their commanding officers in the country's capital, Dhaka. The violence, which threatens to destabilize Bangladesh, comes just weeks after the country navigated a difficult return to democracy following two years of Army-backed rule.

At least one person was killed and 16 were wounded during gunfights at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles, the border security force, reports The Daily Star, Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper.

The gunfight broke out at about 7:45 this morning with firing thousands of rounds of gunshot at the BDR Headquarters as "angry and aggrieved" BDR soldiers launched a violent and armed mutiny against their high command.

The Associated Press reports that the border guards also seized a shopping mall . Al Jazeera English adds that the fighting erupted during a meeting between junior officers and their commander, and may involve grievances over pay.

"The fighting broke out, apparently, this morning during a meeting between junior and senior officers. There is panic on the streets right now. No-one is clear about what's happening," [an Al Jazeera reporter] said.
Private TV stations Bangla Vision and ETV, reporting live from the scene, said the guards came out of their barracks and seized a conference hall where officers were meeting.
The report said troops of the Bangladesh Rifles chanted slogans for more pay and better facilities."

The Associated Press reports that the guards were promised amnesty in a meeting with the prime minister and may surrender.

The Bangladesh Rifles, or BDR, is a paramilitary force numbering about 65,000, making it the second largest in the country, according to England's Guardian newspaper.

The violence, which shook Bangladesh and paralyzed the capital, comes at a fragile time for Bangladesh, one of the world's largest Muslim nations. The country is just making a return to civilian democratic rule, following a military-backed coup in January 2007, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in December.

Bangladesh ended two years of rule by a military-backed caretaker government when it voted in a new government [in late December].
An alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League clinched a two-thirds majority in Parliament, trouncing her archrival Khaelda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The elections, postponed since January 2007 after months of political turbulence, had a 70 percent turnout rate. They are being hailed by civil rights groups as Bangladesh's return to democracy.

The Guardian adds that a problem has been brewing within the border security forces for many months.

Reporters stressed the mutiny was the result of a problem within the security force and was not a coup d'etat.... A revolt has been brewing since BDR paramilitary units first called for "parity" with regular soldiers six months ago.

By mid afternoon on Wednesday, The Daily Star reported that the mutiny had spread to near Chittagong, Bangladesh's port city in the south.

BDR soldiers took control over Goalkhali BDR camp in Khulna after the revolt by their colleagues at the Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters in Dhaka, triggering tensions through the southern city.
Sources inside the camp said the BDR jawans shut down the main entrance of the outpost at about 11:00 am as the news of the mutiny at their headquarters travelled in fast.
They said eight army officials in command of the camp went away hurriedly as the soldiers started moving around the camp.

The Daily Star adds that a team of negotiators reached the prime minister's office in the afternoon.

They went to Jamuna with state minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak and parliament whip Mirza Azam shortly after 3:45 pm.
Nanak and Azam were sent by the prime minister to the BDR headquarters for talks in a bid to calm down the situation that erupted in the morning following some demands of the BDR soldiers.
Mutinous BDR members earlier said they would call a ceasefire after holding talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Home Minister Sahara Khatun.

The New York Times reports: "What impact Wednesday's clashes will have on a still fragile civilian government depends on how quickly it is put down and how the mutinous troops are dealt with."

"I don't think it's a serious threat to the stability of the state, but it's certainly a serious threat to the security forces and their standing, their place in the structure of the state," said A.N.M. Muniruzzman, a retired army major general who now heads the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies in Dhaka. "This is a fragile time, and this could be a very destabilizing factor."
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